seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Irish Artist Sarah Henrietta Purser

sarah-purser-by-john-butler-yeatsSarah Henrietta Purser, Irish artist mainly noted for her work with stained glass, dies in Dublin on August 7, 1943.

The Purser family had come to Ireland from Gloucestershire in the eighteenth century. Purser is born in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) in County Dublin on March 22, 1848. She is raised in Dungarvan, County Waterford, one of the numerous children of Benjamin Purser, a prosperous flour miller and brewer, and his wife Anne Mallet. She is related to Sir Frederic William Burton, RHA (1816-1900), who is a son of Hannah Mallet. Two of her brothers, John and Louis, become professors at Trinity College Dublin. Her niece Olive Purser, daughter of her brother Alfred, is the first woman scholar at Trinity.

At thirteen Purser attends the Moravian school, Institution Evangélique de Montmirail, Switzerland where she learns to speak fluent French and begins painting. In 1873 her father’s business fails and she decides to become a full-time painter. She attends classes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and joins the Dublin Sketching Club, where she is later appointed an honorary member. In 1874 she distinguishes herself in the National Competition. In 1878 she again contributes to the Royal Hibernian Academy, and for the next fifty years becomes a regular exhibitor, mainly portraits, and shows an average of three works per show.

In 1878-1879, Purser studies at the Académie Julian in Paris where she meets the German painter Louise Catherine Breslau, with whom she becomes a lifelong friend.

Purser becomes wealthy through astute investments, particularly in Guinness, for which several of her male relatives have worked over the years. She is very active in the art world in Dublin and is involved in the setting up of the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, persuading the Irish government to provide Charlemont House in Parnell Square to house the gallery.

Purser works mostly as a portraitist. Through her talent and energy, and owing to her friendship with the Gore-Booths, she is very successful in obtaining commissions. When the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland commissions her to portray his children in 1888, his choice reflects her position as the country’s foremost portraitist. Various portraits painted by Purser are held in the National Gallery of Ireland.

Purser finances An Túr Gloine (The Tower of Glass), a stained glass cooperative, at 24 Upper Pembroke and runs it from its inauguration in 1903 until her retirement in 1940. Michael Healy is the first of a number of distinguished recruit, such as Catherine O’Brien, Evie Hone, Wilhelmina Geddes, Beatrice Elvery and Ethel Rhind. She is determined the stained glass workshop should adhere to true Arts and Crafts philosophy. An Túr Gloine archive is held in the Centre for the Study of Irish Art, National Gallery of Ireland.

Purser does not produce many items of stained glass herself. Most of the stained glass works are painted by other members of the co-operative, presumably under her direction. Two early works are St. Ita (1904) for St. Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea and The Good Shepard (1904) for St. Columba’s College, Dublin. Her last stained glass work is believed to be The Good Shepard and the Good Samaritan (1926) for the Church of Ireland at Killucan, County Westmeath.

Until her death Purser lives for many years in Mespil House, a Georgian mansion with beautiful plaster ceilings on Mespil Road, on the banks of the Grand Canal. Here she is “at home” every Tuesday afternoon to Dublin’s writers and artists. Her afternoon parties are a fixture of Dublin literary life.

Purser dies in Dublin on August 7, 1943 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery beside her brothers John and Louis. Mespil House is demolished after her death and developed into apartments.

Purser is the second woman to sit on the Board of Governors and Guardians, National Gallery of Ireland, 1914-1943. She is made an Honorary Member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1890, becoming the first female Associate Member in 1923 and the first female Member in 1924. Also in 1924 she initiates the movement for the launching of the Friends of the National Collection of Ireland. Archives relating to Sarah Purser are housed in the Centre for the Study of Irish Art, National Gallery of Ireland.

(Pictured: Portrait of Sarah Purser by John Butler Yeats, c. 1880–1885)


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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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Birth of Sir Hugh Percy Lane, Gallery Director & Collector

hugh-percy-laneSir Hugh Percy Lane, art dealer, collector, and gallery director, is born in County Cork on November 9, 1875. He is best known for establishing Dublin‘s Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, the first known public gallery of modern art in the world, and for his contribution to the visual arts in Ireland, including the Lane Bequest.

Lane is brought up in Cornwall, England, and begins his career as an apprentice painting restorer and later becomes a successful art dealer in London.

Through regular visits to the home of his aunt, Lady Gregory, in Coole Park, near Gort in County Galway, Lane remains in contact with Ireland. He soon counts among his family, friends, and social circle those who collectively form the core of the Irish cultural renaissance in the early decades of the 20th century.

Extolling the cause of Irish art abroad, Lane also becomes one of the foremost collectors and dealers of Impressionist paintings in Europe, and amongst those works purchased by him for the new gallery are La Musique aux Tuileries by Édouard Manet, Sur la Plage by Edgar Degas, Les Parapluies by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and La Cheminée by Jean-Édouard Vuillard.

The Municipal Gallery of Modern Art opens in January 1908 in temporary premises in Harcourt Street, Dublin. Lane hopes that Dublin Corporation will run it, but the corporation is unsure if it will be financially viable. Lane does not live to see his gallery permanently located as he dies on May 7, 1915, during the sinking of the RMS Lusitania off the west coast of Cork. The gallery, extended in 2005, is now in Parnell Square in central Dublin.

For his “services to art” in Ireland, Lane is knighted in June 1909 at the comparatively young age of 33.

Following his death, Lane’s will bequeaths his collection to London, but an unwitnessed later codicil bequeaths it to Dublin. Having possession, London’s National Gallery does not recognise the codicil. At the request of Lane’s aunt, Lady Gregory, W.T. Cosgrave, leader of the Irish Government unsuccessfully approaches Ramsay MacDonald on the matter in 1929. When John A. Costello becomes Taoiseach in 1948, he initiates further negotiations with the government of the United Kingdom, eventually leading to a compromise in 1959, under Taoiseach Seán Lemass, whereby half of the Lane Bequest will be loaned and shown in Dublin every five years. In 1993 the agreement is varied so that 31 of the 39 paintings would stay in Ireland. The remaining 8 are divided into two groups, so that four would be loaned for six years at a time to Dublin. In 2008, The National Gallery in London arranges for the entire collection to be on display in Dublin together for the first time.