Patrick Anthony Hennessy RHA, Irish realist painter known for his highly finished still lifes, landscapes and trompe-l’œil paintings, dies in London on December 30, 1980. The hallmark of his style is his carefully observed realism and his highly finished surfaces, the result of a virtuoso painting technique.
Hennessy is born in Cork, County Cork, on August 28, 1915. The son of John Hennessy an army sergeant major from County Kerry and Bridget Hennessy from Cork. His father is killed in World War I at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. In 1921, when he is five years old, his mother remarries in Cork. Her second husband is a Scot named John Duncan and shortly afterwards the whole family moves to Arbroath, Scotland, where Duncan has relatives.
Hennessy is educated in Arbroath at St. Thomas RC Primary School followed by secondary education at Arbroath High School, where he begins to show an aptitude for art, leaving in 1933 with the Dux for Art and an accompanying medal. In the autumn of 1933 he enrolls at the Dundee of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, for a four-year Diploma course in Drawing and Painting under James McIntosh Patrick and Edward Baird. Here he meets Harry Robertson Craig who becomes his lifelong companion. He plays a full part in the social activities of the college, winning a fancy dress award at the Christmas revels in 1935 and producing a ballet “Paradise Lost” the following year. He gains a First Class Pass in each year of the course along with winning first prize in 1934 and 1936 for work done during the summer vacation. He graduates with a First Class Distinction in 1937.
Having gained a scholarship, Hennessy continues his studies at the Dundee of Jordanstone College of Art & Design for a further year by doing a Post-Graduate Diploma course in Drawing and Painting. Within a month of gaining his Post-Graduate Diploma he holds his first joint exhibition at the Art Galleries in Arbroath. In June 1938 he is awarded the Annual Travelling Scholarship for further studies in Paris and Italy. In Paris he meets up with the artists Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde, whom he had met the previous year, the three travelling south together to Marseilles towards the end of that year. On his return to Scotland he is selected for the residential summer school course at Hospitalfield House near Arbroath under James Cowie. Two of his paintings, a still life and a self-portrait, are accepted that year by the Royal Scottish Academy for their Annual Exhibition. However, by the autumn of 1939 with war looming and feeling somewhat disenchanted on his return to Scotland, he decides to return to Ireland.
On arrival in Dublin Hennessy is offered an exhibition in December 1939 at the Country Shop on St. Stephen’s Green which is opened by Mainie Jellett. This attracts favourable attention. During the early 1940s he lives at various addresses in and around Dublin with frequent trips to Cork. In 1940 he is invited to join the Society of Dublin Painters and holds regular annual exhibitions of his work there during the 1940s and early 1950s. These exhibitions are supplemented by an eclectic mix of commissions, mostly portraits which he undertakes during this period. In 1941 he has three of his paintings accepted by the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) for their annual exhibition. This is the beginning of a long relationship with the RHA. He exhibits there virtually every year from 1941 until 1979, the year before his death.
From the early 1940s onwards, Hennessey’s work sometimes incorporates a homosexual visual subtext. He re-unites with Harry Robertson Craig in 1946 and soon after they move to Crosshaven, County Cork, and later to Cobh. In 1947, Time magazine selects him as one of Ireland’s outstanding painters, in recognition of the important position he has then attained in the art world. In 1948 he has an exhibition at the Victor Waddington Gallery, Dublin, and that same year is elected an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy and a full member the following year. In 1950 his painting De Profundis is selected for the Contemporary Irish Painting exhibition that tours North America. As a result of this tour, the American public and critics begin to take notice of his work. In 1951 he visits Italy, taking in Venice and Sicily and returning to Dublin with many of his canvases painted abroad. One of these paintings, Bronze Horses of St. Marks, is exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1954.
In 1956, a friend of Hennessy, David Hendriks, opens the Ritchie Hendriks Gallery on St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin and it is this gallery that is to be the main outlet for his work over the following 22 years. In October 1956 the Thomas Agnew Gallery in London holds an exhibition of his work comprising 38 of his paintings. However, during the winter of 1959 he becomes seriously ill with pneumonia. As a consequence of this, in the autumn of that year he and Craig decide to winter in Morocco. This is the beginning of a new era in both their lives. They would never again spend a full year in Ireland. His exhibitions at the Ritchie Hendriks Gallery had for many years enjoyed favourable reviews from the art critics but in the 1960s this changes with critics claiming his paintings to be dull, repetitive and suggest he needs to explore new areas. Despite the barrage of criticism, in 1965 the Guildhall Gallery in Chicago offers him a major exhibition. Shortly after this exhibition takes place in 1966 he becomes one of the artists on permanent display at the gallery with an annual exhibition. The North American market is extremely lucrative for him and by the end of the decade he is selling more of his work in the United States than in Ireland. In 1968 he finally moves to Tangier, Morocco on a permanent basis and in 1970 sells his studio on Raglan Lane, Dublin.
In Morocco, Hennessy paints prolifically for nine years to keep up with demand from the Hendriks Gallery and Guildhall Gallery along with the RHA. In 1975 the Guildhall Gallery mounts a highly successful Retrospective of his work. In 1978 he has his last exhibition in Dublin at the Hendriks Gallery. By this time he has moved to the Algarve, Portugal and is beginning to have health problems.
In November 1980, with his health deteriorating, Craig brings Hennessy to a hospital in London for treatment. However, on December 30, 1980 he dies from cancer. Following cremation his ashes are buried in nearby Golders Green Crematorium. He leaves his entire estate to Harry Robertson Craig with the proviso that on Craig’s death the Royal Hibernian Academy should be the beneficiary. This legacy has been used to set up the annual Hennessy Craig Scholarship for aspiring artists.
Hennessy falls into the category of painter who develops a distinctive personal style, labelled at various times in his life as a Traditional Realist, Romantic, Photo Realist, Illusionary and Surrealist. However, he always remains intrinsically himself. His subjects range from still life and interiors to landscapes and portraits.
Examples of Hennessy’s work can be found in the public collections of the Crawford Art Gallery, the Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), the Limerick City Gallery of Art (LCGA), the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI), the National Self-Portrait Collection of Ireland (NSPCI) at the University of Limerick (UL), and in the collections of University College Cork (UCC) and University College Dublin (UCD).