‘The loveliest thing ever made by an Irishman’

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She came towards him dancing, moving the folds of the veil so that they unfolded slowly as she danced

One of the highlights of the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin is thje collection of modern stained glass displayed in a small, darkened room close to the entry of the Gallery. My favourite of these works is the the Art Nouveau / Arts and crafts style stained glass window by the Irish artist Harry Clarke, inspired by the poem The Eve of St Agnes  by John Keats, completed in 1924. Last year it was joined by an exquisite small panel, only a few inches across, purchased from the Fine Art Society in London. It was originally intended to be part of Clarke’s Geneva Window, described by Clarke’s friend and patron Thomas Bodkin as ‘the loveliest thing ever made by an Irishman’.

It’s a beautiful little work, typical of Clarke’s work – and like The Eve of St Agnes it’s incredibly detailed and beautifully composed with rich, deep and vibrant colour.

The panel depicts a scene from Liam O’Flaherty’s novel Mr Gilhooley, showing a partially nude dancer, Nelly, Gilhooley’s mistress, covered only by a transparent veil. It was one of a series of eight panels inspired by the literature of 20th Century Irish authors including Yeats, Shaw and O’Casey. The Hugh Lane’s pane  was Clarke’s original attempt to create the scene, but during its final firing, it developed a hairline crack. Clarke later remade this section. He had to replace it in the final work and in doing so changed the colour scheme from pink to blue.The Geneva Window was commissioned by the Irish government for the League of Nations building in Geneva in late 1920s but was deemed to be unsuitable by the then president of the executive council of the Irish Free State ,WT Cosgrave. In 1988 Clarke’s sons, David and Michael, sold it to a wealthy American art collector, Mitchell Wolfson, and today it’s displayed in his museum in Miami Beach, Florida.More detailed information and images of the Geneva Window can be found here and here.

A bit of a mess!

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After looking round the Witness Revolution exhibition at the GPO I wandered up O’Connell Street and across Parnell Square to visit the high Lane Gallery. It’s something of a secret with far fewer visitors than the National Art Gallery even though it has an excellent collection of art from the late 19th Century onwards. While I was there I managed to catch a chamber concert of violin sonatas by Beethoven and William Walton as well as looking around at the art on display.

One of the main attractions is Francis Bacon’s famously messy, reconstructed studio. Originally located at 7 Reece Mews in Kensington, London, it was donated to the Hugh Lane Gallery after his death by his heir John Edwards

In 1998, director Barbara Dawson secured the donation of Francis Bacon’s studio from the artist’s heir John Edwards and Brian Clarke executor of the Estate of Francis Bacon. In the August of that year, the Hugh Lane team removed the studio and it’s entire contents from London to Dublin. The team, led by conservator Mary McGrath, comprised archaeologists who made the survey and elevation drawings of the small studio, mapping out the spaces and locations of the objects and conservators and curators who tagged and packed each of the items, including the dust. The walls, doors floor and ceiling were also removed. The relocated studio opened to the public in 2001.

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Visitors look into the studio from outside through the location of original front windows and through a glass panel in one of the side walls.

It’s incredibly messy and a very small space for a well known, wealthy artist. He could certainly have afforded to buy something much more spacious. But there were deep seated reasons why he could only work here. Various quotes from him about why he worked here are stencilled on the walls around the reconstruction.

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Bacon was born at at 63 Lower Baggot Street in Dublin and spent some of his childhood in Ireland, although his parents were English – his father, an ex soldier, moved the family there as he wanted to breed and train racehorses.

Over 7,000 items were found in the studio and they’ve all been catalogued by the Gallery in a specially designed database which is accessible on computer screens next tot he studio.

The Gallery own a number of works by Bacon including six unfinished paintings which were on display in an adjacent room to the Studio.

Untitled (Three Figures) c. 1981 (Source; Hugh Lane Online Collection)

They are extremely rare examples as Bacon usually destroyed unfinished works and denied he made preparatory sketches etc.

I’m not particularly a fan of Bacon, but it’s fascinating looking at the mess – I’m sure there’s plenty of parents who compare it to their offsprings’ bedrooms! – and it was interesting to see the unfinished works. I’d certainly agree with the the Gallery’s website which tells us, these unfinished works

reveal his unorthodox techniques in their raw state.

And I think that the state of his studio gives us an insight into the state of his mind.

Dublin GPO – Witness Revolution

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Easter Monday 1916. The First World War was raging on mainland Europe. But, believing “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity”, in Dublin just after midday on Easter Monday 1916, a band of rebels stormed the the General Post Office on Sackville Street (now known as O’Connell street, the main thoroughfare north of the Liffey in the city centre),. They ordered staff and customers to leave and seized control of the building. The Republican flag was hoisted and at 12:45 p.m., Pádraig Pearse read out the Proclamation of the Republic.

As the Rebels’ headquarters, the GPO came under attack from the British and Sackville Street and the GPO came under heavy bombardment. The building suffered serious damage leaving only the façade intact. It didn’t reopen until 1929.

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(Source National Library of Ireland)

Given the GPO’s important role in the events of the Rising, it’s perhaps not surprising that An Post have decided to cash in on the interest created by the Centenary, and earlier this year opened a permanent exhibition within the historic building. I’m back in Ireland with work this week, but came over early on Sunday and decided to take a look.

I’d visited the other main 1916 exhibition in the city, at Collin’s Barracks, back in April, so was interested to see how they compared. I’d also recently seen the exhibition at the IMMA which was inspired by Elizabeth O’Farrell and Julia Grenan, two women who took part in the events in the GPO.

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The exhibition – Witness Revolution – is a mixture of displays of original artefacts (guns, medals, clothing, documents and the like), visual displays and multimedia including interactive touchscreen information panels and games. One of the highlights is an “immersive” widescreen video recreating the fighting inside the GPO and elsewhere around the city.

There were several “walls” with posters from different eras – before, during and after the Rising – which provided some historical  and cultural context.

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This is a typical display case of artefacts – here relating to the Irish Citizen’s Army, which was formed during the 1913 Lockout. Led by James Connolly, who was seriously wounded while based in the GPO, they were a major component of the Rebel forces.

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There’s also a  recreation of how part of the GPO would have looked during 1916

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The scope of the exhibition went beyond the events of Easter 1916, with some displays and information about the aftermath including the War of Independence and the subsequent civil war. Continuing upstairs there were further displays about the aftermath of Independence and the partition of Ireland – a story that continues today.

The inner courtyard of the GPO has also been developed by artist Barbara Knezevic who has created a special memorial to 40 children who lost their lives in the crossfire. I couldn’t actually get into the courtyard, but was able to look at the memorial through the large windows.

Leaving the exhibition, after passing through the obligatory café and gift shop, I took a look inside the Post Office to see how it looks today

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It was an interesting exhibition. To be frank, I didn’t learn anything new (I have an interest in Irish history and the struggle for independence and am reasonably knowledgeable about the subject) but it is always interesting to look at artefacts from the period. I quite enjoyed the short film, even if it it’s version of events was rather simplistic. How did it compare with the exhibition at the Collin’s Barracks? They were similar in many ways and for me there wasn’t much to choose between them. The GPO probably has a slight edge, partly because of the video and other interactive elements, but mainly because there was  a real sense of history being inside the building which was the centre of the action. But the Collin’s Barracks is free to visit, while the GPO charge 10 Euros. Take your pick!

(There’s some good resources, including eyewitness accounts, about the events in and around the GPO during the Rising here.)

The P**** with the Stick

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This statue of James Joyce stands on Earl Street in central Dublin, on the north side of the Liffey, close to the junction with O’Connell Street and opposite the Millennium Spire.

It took a bit of digging to find out that the sculptor was Marjorie Fitzgibbon who was born in 1930 in Reno, Nevada in the USA. Trained as an actress,  during a trip to Greece she fell in love with art and  sculpture. She moved to Ireland in the 1960s

Locals have a rather rude rhyming name for it (as they do for a number of other sculptures around the city).

People on Paper at Abbot Hall

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To finish off our short break in the Lakes we drove over to Kendal to visit the latest exhibition at Abbot Hall. People on Paper , as the title implies, features drawings of people by British artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries from the Arts Council Collection with loans from the British Council Collection.

The show includes drawings by nearly 50 artists,  from the early twentieth century, including Gwen John (with the earliest drawing in the exhibition), Augustus John and Walter Sickert, right through to more modern artists such as Euan Uglow, Lucien Freud, David Hockney and Antony Gormley.

Arts Council Collection

Drawing of a Girl, Alice (1974) by Lucien Freud

Drawing people is inevitably figurative but there were some more abstract approaches, particularly this sketch by Mimei Thomson (Liquid Portrait 4, 2008)

Mimei Thompson, Liquid Portrait 4, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist

The works included simple sketches (some unfinished), more complex drawings, watercolours and even some incorporation of multi-media as in Kate Davis’ drawing Partners Study (Figure 1) from 2005 which incorporates a ceramic “telephone” made from small slabs of white clay.

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Walking into the exhibition, the first drawing I saw, almost facing the door, was a rather creepy sketch by L S Lowry Woman With Long Hair (1964). The other drawings in the first room, from the early part of the 20th Century were a little more “normal”, including Gwen John’s simple sketch of the head of a young woman

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Head of a Woman (c 1910)

and this drawing by Harold Gilman,

Harold Gilman. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London

Woman Combing Her Hair (1911)

although there was also an early work by Antony Gorman.

The second room brought us forward in time and included works by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth, Reconstruction, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © Bowness, Hepworth Estate

Reconstruction (1947)

The third room included some later works, including this simple sketch by Euan Uglow

Girl close to Uglow

Girl Close To (1968)

Another enjoyable exhibition at one of our favourite Galleries. A good selection of artists with works encompassing a wide range of styles and approaches.

Misty Coniston

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The last day of our short break in the Lake District and the weather had changed. After the sunny skies of Friday the mist had rolled in over the fells. But it wasn’t raining (well, not significantly) so we decided we’d go for a walk along the shore of Coniston Water, following the path along the west coast of the lake as far as Torver and then doubling back.

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Looking over to Brantwood

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The Gondola sailed past

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Returning to the Bluebird Café we finished off the morning with a welcome brew and a Cumberland sausage barm!

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