Grace Henry HRHA (1868-1953)

Grace Henry 1Grace Mitchell (1868-1953) was raised in Aberdeen, and exhibited her early work with the Aberdeen Artists Society. Leaving Aberdeen around 1899, she pursued her artistic studies in Brussels in the Ernest Blanc Garic Academy. The Academy accepted female students, but they had to use a separate entrance. In Paris, she attended the Decluse Academy, and then the Academy Julian where she met Paul Henry. Through Paul Henry, the American artist James McNeill Whistler came to influence her work, leading to the prevalence of nocturnal scenes and affecting her choice both of subject and colour.

Her painting The Girl in White (1912 Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin) is reminiscent of Whistler’s Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl (1862, National Gallery of Art, Washington) in its subject, its controlled brushwork and as a tonal study.
Paul Henry and Grace Mitchell were married in London in 1903, having moved there a couple of years earlier to further their artistic careers. Their trip to Achill in 1910, intended to last a fortnight, became a nine-year stay. Both artists painted extensively during these years, but in very different styles. Paul Henry’s Irish landscapes are typically muted in tone and focus on lake and mountain scenes. In contrast, Grace Henry often painted nocturnal scenes,working out of doors but using artificial lights to aid her in her compositions. In Evening Star, Achill (1912, Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin) her use of colour is particularly striking in the vivid blue of the sky. Her works from this period show both the use of a rich palette, and a concern with atmospheric effects. She also painted figural groups in the west of Ireland. Top of the Hill (c.1920, Limerick City Gallery of Art) is a warm scene which gives a sense not just of the western landscape, but also a sense of the community. The painting shows a group of women stopping for a chat at the top of a hill. One woman looks out of the painting, smiling at the viewer. Their shawls and head-scarves, and the green fields and rolling clouds, are typical of portrayals of rural Ireland. However, Henry’s style, with its bold colours and heavy outlines, is very striking.

Grace Henry 2Along with her husband Grace Henry was a founding member of the Dublin Society of Painters which sought to promote young Irish artists. During the 1920s and 1930s she travelled in France and Italy, training under André Lhote, whose students Evie Hone, Mary Swanzy and Mainie Jellett were to bring Cubism to Ireland. However, his influence is not as strong on Grace Henry’s work, which never fully adopts a Cubist style. Grace Henry’s work has often been overshadowed by that of her husband, and the inscription on one of her paintings in the Hugh Lane Gallery reads “Mrs Paul Henry”. However, an examination of their work shows that Grace Henry was the more adventurous of the two – her works are more varied, and show modern influences, such as that of Cubism and Japanese prints. The Henrys exhibited together in St Stephen’s Green Gallery and the Magee Gallery in Belfast, among other venues, up until their formal separation in the early 1930s. Following this, she continued to travel and to paint. Grace Henry was made an honorary member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1949 and her work can now be seen in many Irish art institutions.

Norah McGuinness HRHA (1901-1980)

Norah McGuinness 1The Irish landscape artist, graphic designer and illustrator Norah McGuinness was born in County Derry, Northern Ireland. She studied drawing and fine art painting at the Metropolitan School of Art, Dublin (now the National College of Art & Design), the Chelsea Polytechnic, London, and then (on the advice of Mainie Jellett and Evie Hone) under the French artist André l’Hote, in Paris.

From France, McGuinness moved to London, becoming a member of the avant-garde London Group, and from 1937-39 she lived in New York. After America, she returned to settle in Dublin in 1940. She was elected an honorary member of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1957 but resigned in 1969.

Norah McGuinness executed vivid, highly coloured, flattened landscape paintings, (as well as still-life and portrait art) in a spontaneous style influenced in part by the colourist Fauvist movement and the artist Lhote. Although her painting remained figurative, her work reveals the Cubist influence of Lhote, and she was associated with the modern movement in Ireland. A founder member of the Irish Exhibition of Living Art (she succeeded Mainie Jellet as President in 1944), McGuinness (like Maurice MacGonigal) first showed at the RHA in 1924 and became an honorary member (HRHA) in 1957. She exhibited her paintings and designs in Ireland at the Victor Waddington Galleries and The Dawson Gallery, Dublin, and in London at the Wertheim Gallery. Together with Nano Reid, she represented Ireland in the 1950 Venice Biennale.

In addition to paintings, Norah McGuinness executed a large number of book illustrations, theatre sets and costume designs during her career. She also designed the sales windows of Altman’s in New York and Brown Thomas, Grafton Street for over thirty years.

Norah McGuinness 2In 1968, a retrospective for Norah McGuinness artworks, numbering over 100, was staged by the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Trinity College Dublin. Another retrospective took place at the Frederick Gallery, Dublin, in 1996.

Her work appears in all the major Irish public collections – including: Hugh Lane Art Gallery, Dublin; Arts Council of Ireland; Arts Council of Northern Ireland; Ulster Museum, Belfast; Crawford Art Gallery, Cork; Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), Dublin; National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin; University College Dublin; Waterford Art Gallery Collection; The Victoria and Albert Museum London; Meath County Council – as well as in several important overseas collections such as the Joseph H. Hirschorn collection in New York.

The auction record for a work by Norah McGuinness was set in 2006, when his landscape painting, entitled The Little Harvest, Mayo, was sold at James Adams, in Dublin, for €210,000.

Colin Middleton RHA MBE (1910-1983)

Colin Middleton 2The highly respected Irish landscape artist, figure painter and Surrealist Colin Middleton was born in Belfast in 1910. While he was learning painting and drawing at Belfast College of Art, he was heavily influenced by the work of the Dutch Expressionist Vincent Van Gogh. A deep thinker as well as a modern artist, Middleton’s early work contained non-naturalistic use of colour as well as symbolist even surrealist imagery, leading him to regard himself as the only Surrealist working in Ireland in the 1930s. His paintings first appeared at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1938, although perhaps because of his modern approach to art he only gained associate membership in 1969 and full membership in 1970.

In 1943, the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery arranged a vast, comprehensive one-man exhibition for Middleton – at the time the largest solo show seen. The following year, he held his first solo exhibition in Dublin at the Grafton Gallery in 1944. After this, he devoted himself full-time to painting. More exhibitions followed in Dublin, London and Boston. Post-war images of the Nazi death-camps was a strong influence behind the emotional content of some of Middleton’s greatest paintings. Another response to the war, was to look inwards, and his work in the early 1940s shows a new affection for Belfast life in his genre-paintings of street scenes.

In 1953, Colin Middleton moved to Bangor where he designed numerous theatre sets. He also exhibited alongside Daniel O’Neill at the Tooth Galleries in London. However, the later 1950’s were uncertain years. He was no longer represented by Victor Waddignton Galleries, with whom he had succeeded in the post-war years, and he also moved to Portrush, County Antrim, on the north coast. It was here that he began a parallel career as an art teacher that was to endure for the next 20 years. These changes coincided with shifts in Middleton’s painting, as he renewed and strengthened his interest in abstract art in which the theoretical use of colour began to dominate.

Colin Middleton 1A poet and musician, Colin Middleton also produced a vast range of other artwork such as murals, mosaics and posters. In 1969 he was awarded an MBE and appointed AHRA at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA), with full membership in 1970. A major Colin Middleton retrospective was held in 1976, at the Ulster Museum and the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin. He continued to exhibit at the RHA until his death in 1983. His paintings, some of which command six figure sums at auction, are represented in a large number of public and private collections.

The auction record for a work by Colin Middleton was set in 2005, when his oil painting entitled Muriel was sold at James Adams, in Dublin, for €170,000.

 

Roderic O’Conor (1860–1940)

Roderic_o'connor_yellow_landscapeA Francophile, an exponent of Post-Impressionism, and one of the most famous figures in Irish Painting of the late 19th and early 20th century, Roderic O’Conor was born in County Roscommon and entered the Dublin School of Art (now the National College of Art and Design) at the age of 19. The following year, along with fellow artist Richard Moynan, he studied drawing and fine art painting at the Royal Hibernian Academy, before going to the Academie Royale des Beaux Arts in Antwerp.

After Antwerp, O’Conor spent time in Paris where he became inspired by the outdoor Impressionist painters like Pissarro and Sisley. As a result, he developed an interest in landscape painting and duly left Paris for the Breton village of Pont-Aven (a latter day Barbizon school), where he worked alongside several artists including the Post-Impressionist painters like Paul Gauguin. In some of his 1890s paintings one can see clear traces of the painting techniques which later became known as Fauvism and Expressionism.

Roderic_O'Conor_field-of-corn-pont-avenAt the Post-Aven school, O’Conor painted two portraits of Breton girls. And in his painting Field of Corn, Pont Aven (1892) his brushwork and colouring is reminiscent of the post-Impressionist Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh, who had just committed suicide.

O’Conor spent more of his life in France than any other Irish painter and unquestionably belongs to the sunny ‘Post-Impressionist’ world of the turn of the century. Inspired and engaged by the use of colour, his bold colors and color combinations give his work the stamp of true individuality. Other members of “The Antwerp School”, like Walter Osborne and Nathaniel Hill (both more mainstream Impressionists) and Joseph Kavanagh (Dutch/Belgian style) tended to shy away from O’Conor’s colourism.

After 1904, O’Conor stayed in Paris for the next eight years. Soon his oil painting developed a rich vibrancy of color and a weight of impasto which became two of his mature hallmarks. His subject matter also changed. Instead of landscapes and outdoor artwork, he switched more to painted interiors, nudes and still-life painting.

In Reclining Nude Before A Mirror (c. 1909), the subject is portrayed in a harmony of soft reds, pinks and violets under dim studio light and is reflected in a mirror, in the Baroque tradition. Other female nudes by O’Conor include: Reclining Nude (1910), Perles Rouges (1915), Reclining Nude on a Chaise Longue (1915), La Femme Au Drap Rouge (1916), Seated Nude, Half Length (1923).

He died in Nueil-sur-Layon, France in March 1940.

The auction record for a work by Roderic O’Conor was set in 2005, when his oil painting, entitled La Lisiere Du Bois, was sold at Sotheby’s, in London, for £792,000.