Vanston is born in Dublin on October 19, 1903. She is the daughter of solicitor John S. B. Vanston, and sculptor Lilla Vanston (née Coffey). She attends Alexandra College, going on to study at Goldsmith’s College, London under Roger Bissière. She then goes to Paris to the Académie Ranson, being sent there following the advice of Paul Henry. While in Paris she meets Guillermo Padilla, a Costa Rican law student at the University of Paris. They marry in 1926 and she takes the name Vanston de Padilla. The couple lives for a time in Italy, before moving to San José, Costa Rica. The marriage breaks down in the early 1930s, at which point she returns to Paris with her son and studies with André Lhote. She is living in France at the outbreak of World War II with Jankel Adler, but is able to escape to London in 1940, and later to Dublin.
Vanston’s time in Paris leaves a lasting impression on her work, including use of primary colours and a strong Cubist influence. She belongs to what critic Brian Fallon calls the “Franco-Irish generation of painters who looked to Paris,” along with Mainie Jellett, Evie Hone, and Norah McGuinness. Her time spent living in Costa Rica in the late 1920s and early 1930s imbues her work with tropical and highly toned colours. In Dublin in 1935, she exhibits 17 paintings, largely Costa Rican landscapes, at Daniel Egan’s gallery on St. Stephen’s Green. This is the closest thing to a solo show she would mount, with this show also featuring Grace Henry, Cecil Ffrench Salkeld, and Edward Gribbon.
Meeting the English artist Basil Rakoczi, who is also living in Dublin during World War II, leads Vanston to become associated with The White Stag group. In November 1941, she exhibits for the first time at a group show with 24 other artists, including Patrick Scott. One work that is shown at this exhibition is the painting Keel dance hall, which demonstrates that she spends time in the west of Ireland. The most important event staged by the group is the Exhibition of subjective art, which takes place at 6 Lower Baggot St. in January 1944. The Dublin Magazine notes her work at this show as the most effective of the experimental vanguard. This work, Dying animal, is a Cubist work with semi-representation forms rendered in bold colours. In 1945, her work is featured in a White Stag exhibition in London of young Irish painters at the Arcade gallery, Old Bond St.
In 1947, Vanston spends almost a year in Costa Rica where she paints primarily in watercolours. Apart from this period, she lives and works in Dublin, living at 3 Mount Street Crescent near St. Stephen’s Church. At the inaugural Irish Exhibition of Living Art in 1943, she exhibits five works. At the first Exhibition of Independent Artists in 1960, of which she is a founder, she exhibits three landscapes and a work entitled War. She largely exhibits with the Independent Artists, the Irish Exhibition of Living Art, and the Oireachtas na Gaeilge, and does not exhibit with the Royal Hibernian Academy. Later in life, she exhibits with the Figurative Image exhibitions in Dublin, and is amongst the first painters chosen for Aosdána. A number of her works are featured in the 1987 exhibition, Irish women artists, from the eighteenth century to the present arranged by the National Gallery of Ireland and The Douglas Hyde Gallery.
Vanston dies on July 12, 1988 in a nursing home in Enniskerry, County Wicklow. Her work is greatly admired, but has received little by way of critical attention, which may have been to do with her slow rate of output. A number of her works have proved difficult to trace. She was a private person, even refusing to cooperate with the Taylor Galleries in the 1980s when they wanted to mount a retrospective of her work. The National Self-Portrait Collection in Limerick holds a work by Vanston.
(Pictured: “Landscape with Lake and Hills” (1964), oil on paper (monotype) by Dairine Vanston)