The first exhibition of the Society of Dublin Painters or Dublin Painters Group takes place at its premises at 7 St. Stephen’s Green on August 5, 1920. The Society is formed to promote Irish modern art.
The Society of Dublin Painters is founded in 1920 by Paul and Grace Henry, Mary Swanzy, Letitia Marion Hamilton, Jack B. Yeats, and Harry Clarke. As the original meeting notes have been lost, there is some uncertainty as to which artists are there at the inaugural meeting. Along with these potential founding members, Clare Marsh, E.M. O’Rorke Dickey, and James Sleator are featured in the first exhibition. The Society’s first exhibition runs until September 1 and attracts good reviews. Yeats, Marsh, and Paul Henry are all signatories to the lease of this premises. The group seeks to bring modernism to Ireland, and provide a freer, less academic space for artistic expression and experimentation less focused on accuracy and realism. Its foundation is seen as providing an alternative public exhibition space to the more conservative Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA), which does not favour exhibiting Irish modern art. At its 1923 exhibition, Mary Swanzy exhibits one of her earliest cubist paintings, Decoration. The membership always has a large proportion of women.
The Society holds annual exhibitions and one-person shows at its premises on St. Stephen’s Green. Unlike the Royal Hibernian Academy, the Society does not mandate a particular style of painting for inclusion in its exhibitions, with the only limitation on the number of paintings an artist can submit. The members are free to submit paintings to other exhibitions such as the Royal Hibernian Academy, The White Stag Group and Irish Exhibition of Living Art. Membership is limited, with just ten members initially, rising to twelve in 1932, and eighteen in 1934 owing to limited exhibition and studio space. By 1943, the Society is being overtaken by exhibitions like the Irish Exhibition of Living Art and is no longer seen as the premier outlet for avant-garde Irish art. After a decline in membership, the Society ceases to exist by the early 1960s.
(Pictured: “The Post Car” by Jack B. Yeats displayed at the first exhibition, Adam’s Auctioneers of Dublin)