seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Irish Painter Louis le Brocquy

Louis le Brocquy, Irish painter, dies in Dublin at the age of 95 on April 25, 2012.

Le Brocquy is born in Dublin on November 10, 1916 to Albert and Sybil le Brocquy. He is educated at St. Gerard’s School, studies chemistry at Kevin Street Technical School in 1934, and then Trinity College Dublin before working at his family’s oil refinery. Turning to art at the age of 21, he learns through studying the works of Diego Velázquez, Édouard Manet, and Paul Cézanne, in various museums across Europe. Returning to Ireland at the outbreak of World War II, he focuses his attention on depicting themes from Celtic mythology as well as individuals of Ireland’s Travellers ethnic minority.

Le Brocquy’s work receives many accolades in a career that spans some seventy years of creative practice. In 1956, he represents Ireland at the Venice Biennale, winning the Premio Acquisito Internationale (a once-off award when the event was acquired by the Nestle Corporation) with A Family (National Gallery of Ireland), subsequently included in the historic exhibition Fifty Years of Modern Art at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. That same year he marries the Irish painter Anne Madden and leaves London to work in the French Midi.

Le Brocquy is widely acclaimed for his evocative “Portrait Heads” of literary figures and fellow artists, which include William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, and his friends Samuel Beckett, Francis Bacon and Seamus Heaney. In his later years le Brocquy’s early “Tinker” subjects and Grey period “Family” paintings, attract attention on the international marketplace placing le Brocquy within a very select group of British and Irish artists whose works have commanded prices in excess of £1 million during their lifetimes. Others in this group include Lucian Freud, David Hockney, Frank Auerbach, and Francis Bacon.

Today, Le Brocquy’s work is represented in numerous public collections from the San Diego Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City to the Tate Modern in London. In Ireland, he is honoured as the first and only painter to be included during his lifetime in the Permanent Irish Collection of the National Gallery of Ireland.

Le Brocquy designs the covers for the albums The Lark in the Morning and The Rising of the Moon: Irish Songs of Rebellion. A member of Aosdána, he is elected Saoi in 1994, which is the highest honour that members of Aosdána can bestow upon a fellow member. No more than seven living members can be so honoured at one time.

Le Brocquy dies in Dublin on April 25, 2012 and is survived by his daughter Seyre from his first marriage (1938–1948) to Jean Stoney, and his two grandsons John-Paul and David; his second wife Anne Madden, and their two sons, Pierre and Alexis.


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Birth of Irish American Painter William Harnett

william-michael-harnettWilliam Michael Harnett, Irish American painter known for his trompe-l’œil still lifes of ordinary objects, is born in Clonakilty, County Cork on August 10, 1848, during the time of the Great Famine.

Shortly after his birth Harnett’s family emigrates to the United States, settling in Philadelphia. Becoming a United States citizen in 1868, he makes a living as a young man by engraving designs on table silver, while also taking night classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and later, in New York City, at Cooper Union and at the National Academy of Design. His first known oil painting, a still life, dates from 1874.

The style of trompe-l’œil painting that Harnett develops is distinctive and inspired many imitators, but it is not without precedent. A number of Dutch Golden Age painters, Pieter Claesz for instance, had specialized in tabletop still life of astonishing verisimilitude. Raphaelle Peale, working in Philadelphia in the early 19th century, pioneers the form in America. What sets Harnett’s work apart, besides his enormous skill, is his interest in depicting objects not usually made the subject of a painting.

Harnett paints musical instruments, hanging game, and tankards, but also paints the unconventional Golden Horseshoe (1886), a single rusted horseshoe shown nailed to a board. He paints a casual jumble of second-hand books set on top of a crate, Job Lot, Cheap (1878), as well as firearms and even paper currency. His works sell well, but they are more likely to be found hanging in a tavern or a business office than in a museum, as they dds not conform to contemporary notions of high art.

still-life-violin-and-musicHarnett spent the years 1880–1886 in Europe, staying in Munich from 1881 until early 1885. His best-known paintings, the four versions of After The Hunt, are painted between 1883 and 1885. Each is an imposing composition of hunting equipment and dead game, hanging on a door with ornate hinges at the right and keyhole plate at the left. These paintings, like the horseshoe or currency depictions mentioned earlier, are especially effective as trompe-l’œil because the objects occupy a shallow space, meaning that the illusion is not spoiled by parallax shift if the viewer moves.

Overall, Harnett’s work is most comparable to that of the slightly younger John F. Peto. The two artists know each other, and a comparison can be made between two paintings featuring violins. Harnett’s Music and Good Luck from 1888 shows the violin hanging upright on a door with ornate hinges and with a slightly torn piece of sheet music behind it. The elements are arranged in a stable, deliberate manner. Peto’s 1890 painting shows the violin hanging askew, as well as chipped and worn, with one broken string. The sheet music is dog-eared and torn around the edges, and placed haphazardly behind the instrument. The hinges are less ornate, and one is broken. Harnett’s objects show signs of use but are well preserved, while Peto’s more humble objects are nearly used up.

Crippling rheumatism plagues Harnett in his last years, reducing the number but not the quality of his paintings. He dies in New York City on October 29, 1892. Other artists who paint similar compositions in Harnett’s wake include his contemporary John Haberle and successors such as Otis Kaye and Jefferson David Chalfant.

Harnett’s work is in collections in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, New York), the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (Fort Worth, Texas), the Dallas Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Harvard Art Museums, the High Museum of Art (Atlanta, Georgia), the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Joslyn Art Museum (Omaha, Nebraska), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, New York), the National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.), the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario), the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the San Diego Museum of Art, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (Madrid, Spain), the Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, Ohio), the Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford, Connecticut), and the Wichita Art Museum (Wichita, Kansas) among others.

(Pictured: Music and Good Luck, oil on canvas by William Michael Harnett, 1888, Metropolitan Museum of Art)