seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Mary Swanzy, Landscape & Genre Artist

Mary Swanzy, Irish landscape and genre artist, is born in Dublin on February 15, 1882. Noted for her eclectic style, she paints in many styles including cubism, futurism, fauvism, and orphism, she is one of Ireland’s first abstract painters.

Swanzy is the second of three daughters of Sir Henry Rosborough Swanzy, an eye surgeon, and his wife Mary (née Denham). She attends Alexandra College, Earlsfort Terrace, a finishing school at the Lycée in Versailles, France, and a day school in Freiburg, Germany. This education means that she is fluent in French and German. She goes on to take art classes at Mary Manning‘s studio, under the direction of John Butler Yeats. Manning encourages her to study modelling with John Hughes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art.

Living within walking distance of the National Gallery of Ireland, she spends a lot of time studying and copying the great masters. Her first exhibition is with the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1905 with Portrait of a child, continuing to exhibit portraits every year until 1910. In 1905 she goes to Paris and works at the Académie Delécluse, an atelier-style art school. She goes on to attend the studio of Antonio de La Gándara in 1906, and takes classes at Académie de la Grande Chaumière and Académie Colarossi. While in Paris she is exposed to the works of Gauguin, Matisse, and Picasso, which make a lasting impression on her.

On her return to Dublin, Swanzy paints portraits and genre scenes and holds her first show at Mill’s Hall, Merrion Row in 1913. She holds another show there in 1919, where she exhibits nearly 50 pieces. This exhibition is reviewed by Sarah Purser who notes the lack of melancholy and light optimism in Swanzy’s Irish landscapes. Swanzy paints in a number of styles, often reflecting the major art developments in Paris.

After the deaths of her parents, she is financially independent and can travel, spending her time between Dublin and Saint-Tropez during World War I while continuing to paint. She also exhibits with the Société des Artistes Indépendants in 1914 and 1916, being elected to the committee in 1920. While visiting her sister who is involved with the Protestant relief mission in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, she paints landscapes, village life, and peasant scenes. These works are shown in the autumn of 1921 in the Dublin Painters’ Gallery with six other artists including Jack Butler Yeats, Paul Henry, and Clare Marsh with whom she shares a studio.

Swanzy begins to travel to more exotic countries from the 1920s, Honolulu around 1923, and later Samoa. As a result, she paints local tropical flowers, trees, and native women, with a palette and style similar to that of Fauvism. She stays for a time in Santa Barbara, California, working in a local studio and exhibiting some of her Samoan work at the Santa Barbara Arts Club Gallery. She returns to Ireland in February 1925 and exhibits three of her Samoan paints at the RHA, and 14 at her one-woman show in the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris in October 1925. Gertrude Stein writes her to congratulate her on her Paris exhibition.

In the mid 1920s Swanzy settles in Blackheath, London, making regular trips to Dublin and abroad. In 1932 Purser holds an exhibition of Swanzy’s work for invited guests in her house. At this time her painting is influenced by orphism and is reviewed positively. Her work becomes more allegorical in later years, with The message in the Hugh Lane Gallery demonstrating this. During World War II she stays with her sister in Coolock for three years. In 1943, she holds a one-woman show at the Dublin Painters’ Gallery, and is also featured at the first Irish Exhibition of Living Art. She is exhibited at St. George’s Gallery, London in 1946 along with Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, and William Scott.

Swanzy is made an honorary member of the RHA in 1949, showing with them in 1950 and 1951. She does not exhibit in Ireland for a number of years, but the Hugh Lane Gallery holds a major retrospective of her work in 1968. Following this she holds two one-woman shows at the Dawson Gallery in 1974 and 1976. In 1975 she is featured at the Cork ROSC art exhibition and resumes showing with the RHA. She continues to paint until her death at her home in London on July 7, 1978.

In 1982 the Taylor Galleries holds an exhibition to mark the centenary of Swanzy’s birth. More recently she is featured in the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) 2013 exhibition Analysing Cubism. From October 2018-February 2019, also in IMMA, she is the subject of the solo exhibition Mary Swanzy Voyages.

(Pictured: Sunlit Landscape, oil-on-canvas, by Mary Swanzy)


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Birth of Irish Artist Charles Harper

skellig-arrival-by-charles-harperIrish artist Charles Harper is born on July 30, 1943 on Valentia Island in County Kerry. He studies at the National College of Art and Design, Limerick School of Art and Design and the Graphic Studio in Dublin. He is taught by Maurice MacGonigal and Seán Keating. He also studies filmmaking in Germany.

Harper exhibits regularly in Ireland and abroad. His paintings are well known for their metaphoric themes, including boats, the human form, landscape and angels usually in painterly expressive form.

Harper is influenced by Francis Bacon and David Hockney which is apparent in his portrait work. In his treatment of the human head, the influence of Bacon is obvious as is the work of the Irish artist Louis Le Brocquy. He is also influenced by the Irish artist Patrick Collins. For Harper the actual act of painting is what matters as he sees the actual process as one of exploration and discovery. He says, “the process, the making excites me more than any end product.”

Harper represents Ireland at International Biennials in many countries throughout his career. He receives many national awards for his painting, including first prize for his work commemorating the 1916 Easter Rising at the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin, the Carrols Open Award at the Irish Exhibition of Living Art in Dublin and The Arts councils Bonn an Uachtarain de Hide at the Oireachtas Art Exhibition. More recently he is awarded the BulBulia Award at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 2008.

Harper’s work is included in many important public and private collections including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Irish Arts Council. He is also a member of Aosdána and the Royal Hibernian Academy.

“Painting being a cultural and creative activity should be accessible to all. Though it may also confuse the viewer. I find this totally understandable and acceptable, as art should challenge our perception and established aesthetic.”

(Pictured: Skellig Arrival, acrylic on linen by Charles Harper)


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Death of Artist Margretta “Gretta” Bowen

greta-bowen-children-in-the-parkMargretta Bowen, self-taught Irish artist best known as Gretta Bowen, dies in Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 8 1981. She starts painting late in life, around 1950, after her sons Arthur and George Campbell are already established as artists.

Born in Dublin in January 1880, Bowen lives most of her life in Belfast. She is married to Matthew Campbell, a veteran of the Second Boer War. They have three sons, Arthur, George and Stanley, who all go on to be highly talented artists, with George becoming particularly successful. After her husband death in 1925 she runs a laundrette and takes in lodgers to make ends meet.

Bowen comes to art late in her life. A few weeks before her seventieth birthday she finds paints left behind by her son Arthur and begins to experiment, apparently inspired to some extent by her sons. She uses her maiden name to apparently avoid any obvious connection with them.

Bowen clearly attracts notice early on despite her late start. In 1959, just five years after she takes up painting, she is given a solo exhibition by the Council for Encouragement of Music and the Arts, which continues to support her work when it subsequently becomes the Arts Council of Great Britain. An extensive and admiring review appears in The Times.

Bowen’s work is shown at the Royal Hibernian Academy, the Irish Exhibition of Living Art and the Oireachtas. She also holds one-person exhibitions at the Hendriks Gallery, the Bell Gallery and the Tom Caldwell Gallery. In 1979, at the age of 99, her works gain international fame. She exhibits at the first International Exhibition of Naïve Art in London.

Bowen dies at the age of 101 in Belfast on April 8, 1981.