seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Thomas MacGreevy, Poet & Former Director of the National Gallery of Ireland

Thomas MacGreevy, a pivotal figure in the history of Irish literary modernism, is born on October 26, 1893, in Tarbert, County Kerry. A poet, he is also director of the National Gallery of Ireland from 1950 to 1963 and serves on the first Irish Arts Council (An Chomhairle Ealaíon).

MacGreevy is the son of a policeman and a primary school teacher. At age 16, he joins the British Civil Service as a boy clerk.

At the outbreak of World War I, MacGreevy is promoted to an intelligence post with the Admiralty. He enlists in 1916, and sees active service at the Ypres Salient and the Somme, being wounded twice. After the war, he studies at Trinity College, Dublin, in whose library his papers are now held. He then becomes involved in various library organisations, begins publishing articles in Irish periodicals, and writes his first poems.

In 1924, MacGreevy is first introduced to James Joyce in Paris. The following year he moves to London, where he meets T. S. Eliot and begins writing for The Criterion and other magazines. He also begins publishing his poetry.

In 1927, MacGreevy moves to Paris to teach English at the École normale supérieure. Here he meets Samuel Beckett and resumes his friendship with Joyce. His essay The Catholic Element in Work In Progress is published in 1929 in Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work In Progress, a book intended to help promote Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Along with Beckett, he is one of those who signs the Poetry is Vertical manifesto which appears in issue 21 of transition. In 1931, he produces critical studies of both Eliot and Richard Aldington.

In 1934, Poems is published in London and New York City. The work shows that MacGreevy has absorbed the lessons of Imagism and of The Waste Land, but also demonstrates that he has brought something of his own to these influences. The book is admired by Wallace Stevens and the two poets become regular correspondents.

Unfortunately, although MacGreevy continues to write poetry, this is the only collection published in his lifetime. Since his death there have been two Collected Poems issued, one in 1971 and an edited edition collecting his published and unpublished poetry published twenty years later.

In 1929 MacGreevy begins working at Formes, a journal of the fine arts. He also publishes a translation of Paul Valéry‘s Introduction à la méthode de Léonard de Vinci as Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci. In the mid-1930s, he moves back to London and earns his living lecturing at the National Gallery there.

From 1938 to 1940 MacGreevy is the chief art critic for The Studio. He publishes several books on art and artists, including Jack B. Yeats: An Appreciation and an Interpretation and Pictures in the Irish National Gallery (both 1945), and Nicolas Poussin (1960).

MacGreevy is a lifelong Roman Catholic. His faith informs both his poetry and his professional life. On returning to Dublin during World War II, he writes for both the Father Mathew Record and the Capuchin Annual and joins the editorial board of the latter.

MacGreevy is director of the National Gallery of Ireland from 1950–63. Although to many he seems a surprising choice, his latent talents as an administrator are brought to the fore. He is instrumental in bringing to the gallery such ideas as a lecture series and in-house restoration, which are commonplace abroad. It is through his persistent requests to the government that an extension to the gallery is approved. Unfortunately, the demands of the position take its toll. He has two heart attacks in 1956 and 1957 and ill health forces him to retire in 1963.

During his last years MacGreevy begins writing poetry again. He also begins his memoirs, which he never completes. He is admitted to the Portobello Nursing Home in Dublin for what is to be a minor operation in March 1967. He dies from heart failure on Saint Patrick’s Day eve, March 16, 1967.


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Birth of Irish Painter Sir Frederic William Burton RHA

Irish painter Sir Frederic William Burton RHA is born in County Wicklow on April 8, 1816. The third son of Samuel Frederick Burton and his wife Hanna Mallett, he is taken by his parents to live in County Clare on the west coast of Ireland at the age of six. The old Burton seat is Clifden House, Corofin, County Clare, which is built around the middle of the eighteenth century. The artist’s grandparents were Major Edward William Burton, Clifden, who was High Sheriff of Clare in 1799, and his wife, Jane Blood of nearby Roxton, County Clare. In his youth he has strong sympathy with the Young Ireland movement.

Educated in Dublin, Burton is elected an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy at the age of twenty-one and an academician two years later. In 1842 he begins to exhibit at the Royal Academy. A visit to Germany and Bavaria in 1842 is the first of a long series of trips to various parts of Europe, which give him a profound knowledge of the works of the Old Masters. From 1851 he spends seven years working as a painter in the service of Maximilian II of Bavaria.

Burton works with George Petrie on archaeological sketches and is on the council of the Royal Irish Academy and the Archaeological Society of Ireland. He is elected an associate of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours in 1855, and a full member in the following year. He resigns in 1870, and is reelected as an honorary member in 1886.

In 1874 Burton is appointed the third director of the National Gallery, London, in succession to Sir William Boxall RA. In June 1874, he obtains a special grant to acquire the art collection of Alexander Barker, which includes Piero della Francesca‘s Nativity and Sandro Botticelli‘s Venus and Mars. In 1876 a bequest of 94 paintings, mainly by Dutch artists but also including works by Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Dieric Bouts and Canaletto, is made by the British haberdasher Wynne Ellis. Also in this year an extension to the Gallery by Edward Middleton Barry is completed.

During the twenty years that Burton holds this post he is responsible for many important purchases, among them Leonardo da Vinci‘s Virgin of the Rocks, Raphael‘s Ansidei Madonna, Anthony van Dyck‘s Equestrian portrait of Charles I, Hans Holbein the Younger‘s Ambassadors, and the Admiral Pulido Pareja, by Diego Velázquez (this subsequently attributed to Velázquez’s assistant Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo). He also adds to the noted series of Early Italian pictures in the gallery. The number of acquisitions made to the collection during his period of office exceeds 500.

Burton’s best-known watercolours, The Aran Fisherman’s Drowned Child (1841) and The Meeting on Turret Stairs (1864) are in the National Gallery of Ireland. The Meeting on Turret Stairs is voted by the Irish public as Ireland’s favourite painting in 2012 from among ten works shortlisted by critics. A knighthood is conferred on him in 1884, and the degree of LL.D. of Dublin in 1889.

Burton dies in Kensington, West End of London on March 16, 1900 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.

(Pictured: “Sir Frederic William Burton,” painting by Henry Tanworth Wells (died 1903), given to the National Portrait Gallery, London in 1913)


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Birth of Illustrator Hugh Thomson

Hugh Thomson, illustrator, is born on Kingsgate Street, Coleraine, County Londonderry on June 1, 1860. He is best known for his pen-and-ink illustrations of works by authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and J. M. Barrie.

Thomson is born to tea merchant John Thomson (1822–1894) and shopkeeper Catherine (née Andrews). He is the eldest of their three surviving children. Although he has no formal artistic training, as a young boy he often fills his schoolbooks with drawings of horses, dogs, and ships. He attends Coleraine Model School, but leaves at the age of fourteen to work as a clerk at E. Gribbon & Sons, Linen Manufacturers. Several years later his artistic talents are discovered, and in 1877 he is hired by printing and publishing company Marcus Ward & Co.

On December 29, 1884 Thomson marries Jessie Naismith Miller in Belfast. Soon afterwards they move back to London for Thomson’s career. They have one son together, John, born in 1886.

In 1911, he and his family move to Sidcup, hoping to improve their “ever delicate health.” Thomson’s correspondence reflects the fact that he misses being close to the National Gallery and the museums where he usually compiles research for his illustrations. During World War I, demand for Thomson’s work decreases to a few propaganda pamphlets and some commissions from friends. By 1917, Thomson has fallen on financial hardship and he has to take a job with the Board of Trade, where he works until 1919.

Hugh Thomson dies of heart disease at his home at 8 Patten Road in Wandsworth Common, London, on May 7, 1920.


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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.