James Humbert Craig RHA (1877-1944)


JH Craig 1The Irish landscape painter James Craig was born in Belfast but spent his youth in the countryside of County Down. His Swiss mother came from a family of artists. Craig briefly attended Belfast College of Art where he studied drawing and fine art painting, cutting short his classes to become a largely self-taught painter of landscapes.

Eschewing all intellectualism or mystique in his art, James Craig took all his inspiration from the scenery, people and culture of Ireland – above all, from what he saw with his two eyes. He never attempted to embellish or distort nature. His job, as a landscape painter was to reflect nature as it was.

Despite this fidelity to Nature, Craig was not above dramatizing his landscape painting in the style of Paul Henry. Also, despite his indifference to Barbizon landscape art, Craig’s plein air painting method was similar to that of the Impressionists, as he was at his happiest out of doors either painting or fishing. Even so, he believed in the typical Irish values of faith, frugality and community. Many of his colour schemes are consciously sober and the raw beauty of the landscape is expressed in rugged paintwork.

Craig painted in many different locations, including the Glens of County Antrim, as well as the more inhospitable coastal landscapes of Donegal and Galway. He developed no interest in figure painting, and some of his human figures are conspicuous for their lack of detail. A successful painter of his day, Craig exhibited regularly at the Royal Hibernian Academy from 1915 and was elected to both the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) and the Royal Ulster Academy (RUA).

JH Craig 2Examples of his work may be seen in the collections of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, The Armagh County Museum, The Hugh Lane Gallery Dublin, The Ulster Museum in Belfast and The National Gallery of Ireland. The Oriel Gallery mounted an exhibition of his work in 1978.

The auction record for a work by the Irish painter James Humbert Craig was set in 2007, when his landscape painting, entitled A Soft Day, Connemara, was sold at Christie’s, in London, for £69,600

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Mary Harriet (Mainie) Jellett (1897-1944)

Mainie_Jellett_-_'Achill_Horses',_1938,_Oil_on_canvasThe abstract artist and figure painter Mainie Jellett was born in Dublin. She studied drawing and fine art painting at the National College of Art in Dublin and under Walter Sickert at the Westminster Art School in London. It was in London that she met her lifelong friend and fellow artist Evie Hone.

Jellett had precocious talent as a painter, and while starting out as a follower of Impressionism she began – as a result of her association with the Parisian abstract painter and teacher Albert Gleizes – to develop a greater interest in modern abstract art like Cubism. Along with Evie Hone and Mary Swanzy, Jellett was one of the earliest abstract painters in the history of Irish art.

In 1923, together with a like-minded Evie Hone, she staged one of the first abstract painting exhibitions seen in Ireland at the Society of Dublin Painters. While the critics were horrified at the evident lack of “representational art”, later art experts acknowledge Jellett’s role in helping to maintain contact between European and Irish art.

Mainie Jellet continued to paint in the abstract Cubist style and to exhibit. WB Yeats opened one of her exhibitions in 1926 at the Dublin Radical Club, while she again exhibited at the Dublin Painters Gallery in 1926, 1927, 1928 and 1929. In addition, she exhibited abroad several times during the 1920s: in Paris, Versailles, Brussels, London (with the London Group), and Amsterdam.

From 1930-1937, she showed at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). From 1931, she also exhibited with the Water Colour Society of Ireland (WCSI), showing over 45 paintings from 1931-1943. More exhibitions followed, at the Gate Theatre and St Stephens Green.

Throughout the 1930s she wrote about and taught art – the latter in both Dublin and Cork – playing an important role in the history of Irish painting, as an early proponent of abstraction in art and as a champion of the modern movement.

Mainie Jellett 1Although Jellett’s pictures were often attacked critically, she proved eloquent in defence of her ideas. Her resilience may have been due to her firm Christian beliefs. Indeed, a number of her paintings, though quite abstract, have religious titles and are similar to icons in tone and palate. Along with Evie Hone, Louis le Brocquy, Jack Hanlon and Norah McGuinness, Jellett helped found the Irish Exhibition of Living Art in 1943. She died a year later, aged 47.

Mainie Jellett’s work is represented in many collections including: Crawford Art Gallery, Cork; Niland Art Collection, Sligo; Butler Gallery Collection, Kilkenny; Trinity College, Dublin; The Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, Dublin; The Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; The National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.

The auction record for a work by Mainie Jellett was set in 2006, when her oil painting, entitled Abstract Composition, was sold at Sotheby’s, in London, for £84,000.

Sean Keating (1889-1977)

Sean Keating 2A noted portrait and figure painter, influenced by both Romanticism and Realism, Sean Keating was an Irish nationalist painter who executed several iconic images of the Irish Civil war era, and of the ensuing period of industrialization. One of the great exemplars of representational painting in Ireland, Keating was an intellectual artist in that he set out to depict the birth and development of the Republic of Ireland, and his pictures are deliberately idealized even heroic. However, he held very conservative views about art – verging on the academic style – and was a committed defender of traditional Irish painting, considering much modern art to be bogus.

Born in Limerick, Sean Keating studied drawing at the Limerick Technical School before winning a scholarship, arranged for him by William Orpen, to study fine art painting at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin. In 1914 he won the Taylor Scholarship and the following year exhibited three paintings at the Royal Hibernian Academy.

Over the next period of years he spent time on the Aran Islands off County Galway, and then in London. He returned to Ireland in 1916 and painted the war of independence and the subsequent civil war. Works he completed at this time include the painting: Men of the South (1921) depicting a group of IRA men about to stage a military ambush, and An Allegory (c. 1922) which features a cluster of figures representing the fractures in the young Irish state.

Meantime, in 1919, Keating was appointed an assistant teacher at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. Then in 1921, he staged his first one-man show at The Hall, Leinster Street. In 1923, he was elected to the Royal Hibernian Academy.

In a Dublin exhibition of Irish art held in 1924, Keating was awarded the gold medal for his picture Homage to Hugh Lane – now hanging in the Hugh Lane Gallery. In the late 1920s, Keating was commissioned to record the building of the hydro-electric power generator at Ardnacrusha, near Limerick. He painted a number of paintings of this scheme. Not unlike the Soviet Realism School of painting, these paintings sought to promote the construction work as an achievement of heroic proportions.

Keating’s works began to attract interest abroad. He exhibited at the Royal Academy in London and, in 1930, he held a one-man show at the Hackett Gallery, New York. In 1931 Keating’s one-person exhibition was staged at the Victor Waddington Galleries, Dublin. In 1934 he was made professor of the National College of Art in Dublin, and Professor of Painting, three years later. His 1937 exhibition at the Victor Waddington Galleries attracted considerable interest. In 1939, he was asked to paint a wall-painting for the Irish pavilion at the New York World Fair and duly created a huge mural of fifty-four panels. He was President of the Royal Hibernian Academy from 1949 to 1962, exhibiting nearly 300 works during the period. In 1963, a retrospective exhibition was staged at the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, which was opened by Irish President de Valera.

In the 1966 Golden Jubilee of the Easter Rising Exhibition at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, Keating showed six portraits: those of John Devoy, Erskine Childers, Terence MacSwiney, Thomas MacCurtain, General Michael Brennan and Dr Ella Webb. (During his lifetime he painted about one hundred portraits.) Sean Keating passed away at the Adelaide Hospital, on 21 December 1977. Through his paintings, his teaching and his role in the organizations of the day, he was one of the formative influences on the history of Irish art in the 20th century.

Sean Keating 1Keating’s oil painting Men of the South (1921), now in the Crawford Gallery Cork, depicts a ‘flying column’ of IRA soldiers, ready for action during Ireland’s War of Independence. Keating painted it from sketches and photos he had made of rebels prepared to ‘sit’ for him. Like all classical history painting of this genre, it evokes the courage and ideals of the subjects rather than the bloody contradictions of a violent war. In this sense, despite its representational style, it remains an essentially Romantic composition.

Keating’s landscape painting Men of Aran (1925), inspired by visits to the West of Ireland, is one of Sean Keating’s best works. The dynamic asymetry with the figures in the foreground all staring fixedly at a point out of our sight recalls his other great painting The Men of the South, which displayed similar types and stances. The foreground figures are impervious to the activity below them, and this gives the painting it’s great energy. Unlike his fellow Irish artist Paul Henry, who focused on the landscape itself, Keating regards the landscape as subordinate to the figure and the action taking place.

Paul Henry (1876-1958)

Paul Henry 4Henry’s landscape painting depicts the terrain of the west of Ireland reduced to its key essentials of sky, bog and turf. In his use of mass and color, he can be seen as the first Irish post-Impressionist artist – recording the traditional way of life but in a modern style. He is now regarded by many critics as one of the most influential Irish landscape artists of the twentieth century, and an important painter in the history of Irish Art.

Born in Belfast, Paul Henry attended the Belfast School of Art after which a family member financed a trip to Paris in 1889, where (like John Lavery) he studied at the Academie Julian and was influenced (later) by the rural realism and plein-air painting of Jean Francois Millet, the Barbizon landscape artist. Henry spent a relatively short period of time in the French capital but became one of its best-known Irish artists of the time. He also met Grace Mitchell his wife-to-be, and developed a particular skill in the use of charcoal, which became his favorite medium. In 1900, he moved to London, where he worked as a newspaper illustrator and art teacher. After a few years he returned to Ireland and moved to Achill Island off the County Mayo coast. It was here that Henry discovered his true style as an artist, painting scenes of Irish peasants digging potatoes, cutting turf cutting and harvesting seaweed.

In 1919, he moved to Dublin where – along with several other painters including Jack B. Yeats and Mary Swanzy – he quickly founded the Society of Dublin Painters. By this time, Henry’s style of painting began to focus on pure landscapes typically comprising mountains, a lake and some cottages, topped by a sky which takes up half the painting. In 1922, he gained his first international acclaim when the Musée du Luxembourg purchased his painting: A West of Ireland Village.Paul Henry 1

During the 1920s several of Paul Henry’s works were reproduced as posters or prints and helped to establish the standard scenic view of Ireland in tourist literature and in government publications. Even today, his pictorial naturalism continues to represent a vision of Ireland that many people regard as truly authentic. Henry was appointed a full member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1928 and became one of the first members of the  Royal Ulster Academy of Arts. He died in 1958.

Paul Henry’s paintings include:

In Connemara, Turf Sacks In Connemara, A Western Lough, Achill Cottages, Achill Head, Fishing Boat Achill, Blasket Island, Bog Cutting, Cloudy Day, Launching the Currach, Scene on Aran Island, Silent Waters, Thatched Cottages, On Killary Bay, The Road to the Mountains, The Tower, The Watcher, Turf Sacks, Turf Sacks By A Pool, The Roadside Cottages, Cottages by A Still Lough, Cottages by the Lake, Glencree, Dusk, Evening on the Bog, Misty Morning, Mountain and Lake, Mountain and Lake After Rain, Mountain Landscape West of Ireland, Grace O’Malley’s Castle, Head of an Old Man, Killary Harbour, Connemara Hills, Storm on a Connemara Lake, Cloudy Day Connemara, Windswept Trees Connemara, Lakeside Cottages.

Mary Swanzy (1882 – 1978) Ireland

Mary Swanzy 1.jpg Mary Swanzy often defined herself as a woman who grew up in an era when Ladies have to paint pussy-woosies and doggie-woggies. Swanzy painted neither, working outside the accepted conventions during her long career. Independent and confident, she pursued what intrigued her, regardless of fashion or current movement. As a result she explored numerous styles throughout her lifetime and was one of the first women to paint in the cubist style.

Mary Swanzy grew up in an upper-class family that encouraged her artistic interests. She attended art school in Dublin. Like many artists of her time she found her way to Paris and was included occasionally in the salon of Gertrude Stein, one of  modern art’s most important patrons. There she became acquainted with the work of Matisse and Picasso, Cezanne, Gauguin and Daumier. Despite these revolutionary influences, Swanzy’s formal education encouraged an appreciation for artists of the Renaissance. Each of these influences find their way into Swanzy’s art.

After Paris, Swanzy returned to Dublin where she was one of a handful of talented female artists working in Ireland including Mainie Jellett and Evie Hone. Swanzy’s family urged her to follow the conventional path of Ireland’s artists, which meant becoming a portrait painter and teaching. While neither of these pursuits interested Swanzy, to support herself she did some portraits as well as illustrations for periodicals.

Her first one woman show in 1913 opened to mixed reviews. The negative response from a conservative Irish public did not discourage the artist from pursuing her own path. Soon thereafter the death of a parent broke up her home but brought financial independence and Swanzy responded by traveling the world. In 1914, in an exhibition at the Salon des Independents, Swanzy exhibited alongside other modernists including Robert Delaunay whose Orphic-Cubist works influenced her direction. In 1916 Swanzy was included in an exhibition at Grosvenor Gallery in London and the following year she exhibited again in the Salon des Independents in Paris.

Some contemporary historians have noted that Swanzy’s gender may have done more to free her than restrict her. Swanzy had the resources and the leisure to pursue what she wished. She was not obligated to generate income or concerned about establishing a reputation. Had Swanzy been born male, it might have been more difficult to resist the pressure to work in the accepted style and cultivate a following. Today Swanzy’s reputation as the first Irish cubist is secure.

Mary Swanzy 2.jpgIt is difficult to determine exactly when Swanzy painted the images included here. Like many other artists of the time, she did not date her works, but the influence of cubism and futurism on these paintings cannot be denied. Swanzy borrows the cubist strategy of fragmenting the form, and combines it with the futurists’ approach of layering pattern to simulate motion. The skillful use of color and light, the considered placement of curved and angular forms work to make these two images among Swanzy’s most compelling. There is a dynamism and energy evident that many modernists sought in their work.

More than likely these paintings were done sometime between 1914 and 1925 after she had digested the influences of cubism and before her cubist style softened, becoming less mathematical and more lyrical. Cubist Study of Skyscrapers illustrates how Swanzy was influenced by her travels. In this painting the arched doorways of Southern Europe are projected into futurist skyscrapers. Her choice of earth tones for the Italianate architecture and the bolder tones of purples and yellows for the skyscrapers add to the sense of the past evolving into a brighter future. This painting glorifies the city to come, containing the upward, forward motion typical of futurist images.

The same celebration of technology’s promise can be found in Futuristic Study with Skyscrapers and Propellers where the surging diagonal of the whirling propellers illustrates the hope and trust placed in the new machine age. The motion and the dynamic lines that cut through this composition link it with the more formal properties proposed by futurists. The fragmentation and expression evident in these canvases link Swanzy with the cubism of Robert Delaunay and Jacques Villon.

Swanzy’s passion for travel took her all over the world, including Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. In 1924 and 1925 she lived in Honolulu and Samoa. Swanzy worked and painted in response to each location. In 1926 Swanzy settled in South London where she lived for the remainder of her life. In 1943 she had a one person exhibition at the Dublin Painter’s Gallery. After that she participated in group exhibitions around London, which included paintings by other important modernists like Georges Braque, Raoul Dufy, Marc Chagall and Henry Moore.

Like many, Swanzy was deeply affected by the despair and destruction created by World War II. From 1945 until the end of her life she painted using allegory and symbolism. Toward the end of her life, the work became more lyrical, less disturbing. Mary Swanzy lived the latter part of her life in obscurity in London but continued to paint up to her death at age 96. Ten years before she died, Swanzy was honored with a retrospective exhibition at the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin.

This profile originally at: http://jlwcollection.com/jlwcollection.com/JLW_Collection.html