“Life Above Everything” – Lucien Freud and Jack B Yeats

Back in 2016, the Irish Museum of Modern Art secured a five-year loan of 50 works by Lucian Freud. To house these works, the IMMA set up the Freud Project in the Garden Gallery in the grounds of Kilmainham Hospital, which has previously been used for temporary exhibitions. The project involves presenting

a series of different and exclusive Lucian Freud related exhibitions, with a new programme of events and openings each year. 

IMMA website

I went to see the inaugural exhibition in this series in March 2017 and enjoyed having the opportunity to view 30 of his works. This week I’m back over in Ireland with work and caught the early boat over on Sunday to spend the afternoon visiting the IMMA as I hadn’t been there for a while. During my visit I decided I’d take a look at the latest Freud Project exhibition – Life above Everything: Lucian Freud and Jack B. Yeats – which, as is clear from the title, features works both by Freud and one of my favourite Irish artists, Jack B Yeats. As is usually the case with these types of exhibition, no photos were allowed, so the images in this post are taken from other sources.

Photo Ros Kavanagh from IMMA website (Jack B Yeats paintings)

The IMMA website describes the objective of the exhibition

Exploring the affinities and interconnections between these two artists, this exhibition draws the work of these two stubbornly individual painters into dialogue, placing them side-by-side for the first time in 70 years. While Lucian Freud’s work has been exhibited in the past in group exhibitions alongside other artists from the ‘School of London’, Life above Everything is one of the few exhibitions to date in which Freud has been shown with a single other artist.

IMMA website

Jack Butler Yeats was the brother of the famous poet, William Butler Yeats. He was born in London and spent his childhood between London, Dublin, and Sligo, eventually returning to live permanently in Ireland in 1910. He began his artistic career, in the 1890s, as a black and white journalistic illustrator for various publications before eventually becoming a professional artist. He initially painted in watercolour, but about 1906 he began painting regularly in oil. His early paintings were rather conservative in style but in the 1920s there was a major change in his approach. He started to use bright colours and he began to paint with extremely free and loose brushstrokes with the paint thickly applied. The paintings became much more interesting, over the years becoming more and more abstract and Expressionist in style.

Although Freud and Yeats could both be considered as figurative painters, their styles were very different – particularly when referencing Yeats’ later works. So pairing the two artists in this way isn’t a particularly obvious thing to do. But it was interesting to have the opportunity to “compare and contrast”.

Apparently Freud

had a lifelong interest in the Irish painter’s work, holding a deep admiration for its force and energy. He did not cite Yeats as an ‘influence’ but instead seems to have felt a common purpose with his originality and independence, his continuous searching observation, and his sense of the connection between painting and life. A pen and ink drawing by Yeats, The Dancing Stevedores (c.1900), hung beside Freud’s bed for over 20 years.

IMMA website

The exhibition includes 33 paintings by Freud and 24 by Yeats on two floors of the Garden Gallery, with a good selection of drawings and works on paper by both artists in the basement.

Photo Ros Kavanagh from IMMA website
Photo Ros Kavanagh from IMMA website

I’d seen most, if not all, of the works by Freud previously during my visit to the inaugural exhibition back in 2017 – and Manchester City Art Gallery had loaned a painting I’ve seen many times before, Girl with a Beret (1951-52). However, although I’ve seen the sizeable collection of Yeats’ paintings at both the Irish National Gallery and the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, I was particularly keen to have a good look at his works included in this exhibition, most of which I’d never seen before. Many were from his later period painted in his wild, colourful expressionist style where the figures of people and horses are almost just suggested. I wasn’t disappointed.

Paintings I particularly liked included one on loan from the Tate

The Two Travellers 1942 Jack Butler Yeats 1871-1957 Purchased 1946 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05660

the curiously named ‘Left, Left / We Left Our Name / On the Road / On the Road / On the Famous Road / On the Famous Road / On the Famous Road / Of Fame.’ and several paintings which included horses, a favourite subject of the Irishman, including The Flapping Meeting (1926) and White Shower (1928).

I doubt I’d have paid the entrance fee to see the Freud paintings again, but it was worth it to see those fantastic paintings by Jack B Yeats.

North Bull Island


At the end of my weekend in Wicklow I was booked on the afternoon ferry from Dublin to Holyhead. I had to check out ofthe campsite mid morning so had planned to drive over to Dublin, park around either Merrion or Fitzwilliam square and have a mooch and visit one of the galleries in thecity centre. It didn’t quite work out like that, though. Driving in there were signs regarding a half Marathon and when I arrived in the city centre found that both Merrion and Fitzwilliam squares were closed off as the starting and finishing points for the race. So I had to change my plans.

I reckoned that with the half Marathon on it would be busy in the centre and parking might be difficult. I also thought I could get tangled up in traffic and diversions when it was time to drive across the city to the port. So what to do? I decided to drive over the Liffey and then across to North Bull Island, a low lying, dune covered sand spit in Dublin Bay off the coast of the city’s north side which I see every time I sail in and out of the port. It was a sunny day so a good opportunity to visit the island and take a walk on the beach.


The Island was created 200 years ago following the construction of the 1 kilometre-long North Bull Wall was constructed to prevent the port silting up. The surveying of the river prior to the building of the wall was done by a certain Catain Bligh of Bounty fame. Sand gradually accumulated behind the wall forming the island. Today it’s 5km long by 1km wide and it’s still growing. It’s important ecologically and has been designated as a National Bird Sanctuary, a biosphere reserve, a National Nature Reserve, a Special Protection Area under the EU Birds Directive and a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive. That’s a lot of designations!

The island is easily accessible as it’s connected to the mainland by the Bull Bridge, a one-lane wooden road bridge at the southern (Clontarf/Dollymount) end, and by a causeway, approximately halfway along at Raheny. After cutting acoss the city centre, I drove along the front and then crossed over to the island via the causeway, parked up and wandered past the dunes to the sandy beach known as Dollymount Strand.


The strong wind was in my face as I walked along the beach towards the Bull Wall, but there were plenty of other people out exercising and otherwise enjoying the sunshine. There are views out to sea and over to both Howth Head and the port.


I could see right over Dublin Bay to the Wicklow Mountains. Completely free of cloud today. Typical!

It’s a popular spot for wind surfing and it seemed like a good day for it.


As I walked along the beach I could see the Stena ferry I would be boarding later sailing in. I got some good shots of it as I reached the end of the wall just as it sailed past. Good timing!


Although the sea was quite rough there were a number of bathers who’d taken the plunge. Rather them than me!


I retraced my steps aling the beach and then back to my car. It was time to drive the short distance to the port ready to board the ferry back to Holyhead.

Wolfgang Tillmans – Rebuilding the Future – at the IMMA


After passing through the Mary Swanzy paintings, which I enjoyed very much, I went to look at the Exhibition of photographs by the German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans which occupied the whole of the East wing of the Gallery.

According to the exhibition guide he’s

 one of the most accomplished and widely celebrated artists working today, recognised for major contributions to the development of contemporary photography in terms of subject matter, production, scale, presentation and methodology.

He doesn’t specialise in one style but his work encompasses landscapes, portraits, street photography and abstract images. They come in different sizes too, ranging from very small to gigantic, as can be seen in this photograph (it’s a little weird photographing photographs!)


Rebuilding the Future comprises over 100 works and captures Tillmans’ unique way of working. This new exhibition for IMMA mixes works from throughout his career and in numerous formats, installed in IMMA’s galleries in direct relation to the physical spaces and atmosphere of the museum. 

He built in reputation in the 1990’s while he was in Britain with photographs documenting the London club and gay scenes but he’s moved on since then.

One of the first image I saw was this large photograph of the sea looking towards the land. Printed in monochrome and quite grainy, it was almost abstract in nature


Some of the other works that caught my attention


One of his portraits – this one of the singer Neneh Cherrie


A wall of photographs from the London music scene


A couple of the individual photos


Mary Swanzy the IMMA


After a busy day on Saturday,I was up early the next morning to drive over to Holyhead to catch the boat to Dublin as I’m back over working in Naas this week. The boat arrived at the port just after midday, so I had an afternoon to do a few things rather than just spend the whole day travelling.

I decided I’d drive over to the Irish Museum of Modern Art out at Kilmainham as I hadn’t been there for a while and I quite fancied seeing the exhibition of work by the German photographer, Wolfgang Tillmans. 


To reach the Tillmans exhibition I had to pass through several rooms devoted to the work of an Irish artist, Mary Swanzy . She was born in Dublin to a prosperous Protestant family – her father was a distinguished eye surgeon – and grew up around Merrion Square in the south side of the city but during her long life relocated several times and travelled widely. From viewing the exhibition it’s clear she was an accomplished artist, but isn’t well known, no doubt because she was a woman. As she herself is quoted as saying on the exhibition website

 ‘if I had been born Henry instead of Mary my life would have been very different’.

It was the last day of this exhibition and it was clearly popular with the Irish public as it was very busy and the catalogue had sold out. She was born in 1882 and worked right through to her death in 1978. She trained in Dublin and then in Paris and was influenced by the styles that emerged during the early 20th Century. So it was interesting to see her work having just visited the Fernand Léger exhibition at Tate Liverpool the previous day as both artists are particularly known for their Cubist and Futurist paintings, but also created works in other styles, such as Surrealism.

In her early work in Paris, she adopted a Post Impressionist style, as in this portrait of her sister

Portrait of Miss Muriel Swayzey (1907)

She later adopted the Cubist style

Young woman with white bonnet (1920)

Besides portraits, her subjects included landscapes and flowers

Cubist landscape (1928)

In 1920, during the Irish War of Independence, she left Ireland travelling through Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Hawaii and Samoa. One of the rooms was devoted to paintings from this period, which have similarities with Gaugain’s work from his time in Tahiti.


Afterwards she moved to London before relocating to Dublin at the start of WW2

Her style changed over time, becoming more figurative and in some cases adopting the Symbolist

This is portion apart (group of sorrowing women) (1942)
Potato Famine (1940)

Female nudes with horse and viaduct (1930’s)

After the war she returned to London. The works from her later years, displayed in the final room, are quite different and difficult to classify. Many of them feature caricatures of people and animals. As the exhibition guide tells us

This strange assembly of characters make the images appear like scenes from the world of science fiction rather than deriving from an art historical lineage

Revolution (1943)
Reading employment offer column (1972)
Opera Singer (1944)

One of the paintings from the 1940’s was a portrait of her sister. Quite different to the one she’d painted early in her career, really illustrating the evolution of her work.

Portrait of Muriel Swanzy Tullo (1942)

A grand walk on Howth Head


I’m back in Ireland this week – working not on holiday, but I caught an early ferry over on Sunday morning, arriving in Dublin just after midday as I often do so that I can spend a little time exploring what has become my “second home”! The weather was looking reasonably promising so I’d decided to get out for a walk. I’d thought about driving into the Wicklow mountains but on second thoughts felt it would be nice to have a walk along the sea shore so decided to go for a walk on Howth Head, the headland to the north of the city centre that my ferry passes sailing into Dublin Port. It’s only a few miles from the port and it took me about half an hour to drive over there.

I’d done my research beforehand and knew that there were a number of way marked routes I could follow. I’d decided on the longer “Bog of Frogs” route, about 12 km long, that starts at the Howth DART station near the harbour and follows the coast round before cutting across country back to the start.

I’d planned to park up near the harbour as I knew there were plenty of car parks, but when I arrived they were jam full and it was clearly going to be a struggle to find a space. So I drove out of the town centre up inland and managed to find a spot on the Summit car park on top of the cliffs near the Baily lighthouse, part way round the route. There was no reason why I couldn’t start here as the route would bring me back, so that’s what I did.

I followed the path down the hill and after a short distance was on the route. All the routes are waymarked with different coloured arrows. I was following the purple route with a few minor diversions.

Straight away I was greeted with a view over the Baily lighthouse that stands at the end of a peninsula on the south side of the headland. I see it every time I sail into Dublin. It’s still a working lighthouse so it isn’t possible to walk right up to it.

The skies were dark and cloudy over Dublin to the west and as the lighthouse was in that direction it didn’t make for a good photo. But it was clear and bright over to the east, so this photo was taken after I’d walked along the path past the peninsula


Carrying on the narrow path was high up on the cliffs and there were good views down to the sea. It could be hairy on a windy day.


Looking over to Poolbeg and the south wall with the olfd power station chimneys dominating the view


There’s some nice houses up on the top of the cliffs looking over the sea








Turning a corner I could see a Martello Tower along the coast.


The marked route turned inland before the tower but I wanted a closer look so carried on along the coastal path for a while.


It’s been converted into a luxury holiday home.


I carried on the coastal path a little further before turning inland and, passing lots of expensive houses, looped back along the road to rejoin the purple route which now cut inland heading towards the north side of the headland.


The path crossed the golf course (watch out for golf balls!!) and as I climbed I could see the sea on to the north with views across as far as the Mountains of Mourne over the border in Northern Ireland.



At the other side of the golf curse I entered the wooded area known as the “Bog of Frogs”


Fortunately after a dry summer it wasn’t so boggy (although there were boardwalks to keep walkers’ feet dry) and I didn’t see any frogs!

The route now climbed up into heathland before descending down into Howth


but I took a slight diversion climbing a hill to take in the views over the sea and the harbour and toward the small island known as “Ireland’s Eye”


The route continued down the hill, across some fields and passing another golf course and a Gaelic sports field, through a housing estate and then down a path arriving at Howth DART station, the “official” start of the walk.


However, I’d started part way round and so had only completed about two thirds of the route so I had a few more miles to go back to my car. Howth is quite an attractive town and harbour. I’d visited it some years ago during the winter when it was cold and quiet, but this day was quite different – sunny and warm and heaving with people walking around and enjoying a pint and sea food in the many bars and cafes that line the harbour.

I decided to take a break from the walk and explore the harbour. There’s actually two – one a fishing harbour where, being a Sunday, there were plenty of boats moored along the quays




then there’s the “pleasure boat” harbour. Didn’t look like there were many people out sailing!


I walked out on the harbour wall to get a better look at Ireland’s Eye


heading back


The beach to the east of the harbour wall


I spent about an hour looking round the harbour before resuming my walk along the purple route. It took me up past another Martello tower which overlooks the harbour and which today houses a radio communication museum.



The route now followed the narrow road on the side of the cliff as far as the Kilrock carpark and then back on to the cliff top footpath.

Looking back to Howth


and along the cliff path



After almost an hour after setting out from Howth harbour, the Baily lighthouse came into view – and there was the Irish Ferries boat Ulysees sailing past towards Dublin Port.


I’d also seen the Stena Line’s Adventurer sailing past in the distance about half an hour before.

It didn’t take long now to climb back up to the top of the cliff and the Summit car park.

This had been a grand walk. It had been busy in Howth and also along the cliff from the Harbour to the lighthouse – there were several large groups of young tourists who slowed me down a little as it was difficult to pass on the narrow path. But it was good to see them enjoying their walk too.

Back at the car I changed out of my boots and set off driving back through Dublin and on to Naas where I’m staying and working this week.


Irish Gold


After my visit to the National Gallery of Ireland last Sunday, I took a short walk down Kildare Street to the National Museum (Archaeology). I hadn’t visited for a number of years and as I had an hour to spare before it closed I thought I’d take a look around.

Ór – Ireland’s Gold, an exhibition of findings from the Bronze Age occupied the centre of the ground floor, immediately attracted my attention. There were impressive displays of gold objects from both the early and late Bronze Age showing how gold working techniques and craftsmanship evolved in Ireland from 2400 to 700 BC. The collection includes finds from all over Ireland. The gold they used came from alluvial deposits “panned” from rivers and streams. It wasn’t pure and contained other metals such as copper, lead and even silver.

The earliest objects were relatively simple, discs and crescent shaped neck ornaments known as lunulae, made from flat sheets. Many of them were decorated with designs such as rows of dots, crosses, triangles and zigzags. Just over 100 lunulae have been discovered by archaeologists; 80 in Ireland, so the design is likely to have originated here.



Over the years techniques developed allowing more complex objects to be created including solid objects, cast or made from bars and ingots. Gold wire was also used producing hair ornaments called lock-rings and thin gold foil was used to cover objects made from other metals such as copper, bronze or lead.

DSC03504DSC03507 (2)

The most impressive gold objects were in a separate part of the Museum – The Treasury. They were found in 1896 close to the shore of Lough Foyle at Broighter, Co. Derry, part of a hoard of gold objects,  and date from the 1st Century B.C. – the Iron Age.

The Broighter Collar – a hollow tubular neck-ring of hammered sheet gold.

DSC03476 (2).JPG

The Broighter Boat, complete with two rows of nine oars and a paddle rudder for steering, is the earliest depiction of a sailing ship from Ireland. It measures 18.4 cm long by 37.6 cm wide and weighs approximately 85g.



Jack B Yeats

Having spent a good hour looking at the Expressionist paintings in the Emil Nolde exhibition at the National Gallery, I decided to go and have a look at some favourite paintings by the Irish artist Jack Butler Yeats in the Gallery’s permanent collection, who, over his career, developed an Expressionist style.


Many Ferries (1948)

Jack Butler Yeats was the brother of the famous poet, William Butler Yeats. He was born in London and spent his childhood between London, Dublin, and Sligo, eventually returning to live permanently in Ireland in 1910.

Jack began his artistic career, in the 1890s, as a black and white journalistic illustrator for various publications before eventually becoming a professional artist. He initially painted in watercolour, but about 1906 he began painting regularly in oil. His early paintings were rather conservative in style and, in my view, most of his paintings, although displaying a clear talent as a draftsman, were nothing particularly special. But in the 1920s there was a major change in his style of painting. He started to use bright colours and he began to paint with extremely free and loose brushstrokes with the paint thickly applied. The paintings became much more interesting, over the years becoming more and more abstract and Expressionist in style

Although he is largely unknown outside his native country, the Irish National Gallery have a large collection of his works which span his career and which show how his style changed and evolved over time. Unfortunately, the Gallery doesn’t allow photographs to be taken of most of his paintings on display and only a limited selection can be viewed on their website. But in one of the rooms upstairs, almost hidden away near the collection of Dutch paintings, there’s a small selection of his works shown together with portraits by his father who was also a professional artist. Photography was allowed and these are the ones I’ve included in this post. The NGI is also the home of the Yeats Archive


The Islandbridge Regatta (1925)

I’d parked my car in Fitzwilliam Square and returning later that afternoon I took the opportunity to have a quick look at number 18, where the artist and his wife moved in 1929, remaining there for the rest of their lives.

Emil Nolde: Colour is Life at the NGI


A little while ago I developed an interest in German Expressionist art and am quite keen to see and find out more about it. So when I was in Dublin last Sunday afternoon, I decided to call into the National Gallery of Ireland to take a look at their latest temporary exhibition, which is devoted to the work of Emil Nolde.

He was born as Emil Hansen near the village of Nolde  in the Prussian Duchy of Schleswig, close to Denmark (and which had been the area disputed by Denmark and Germany in the mid 19th Century resulting in a war between the two countries). He changed his name to that of his home town, for reasons which probably reflect his political views (more of which later).

In 1906, he joined Die Brücke (The Bridge), the group of Expressionist artists based Dresden, but left after a year. He was a member of the Berlin Secession, from 1908 to 1910, leaving when he fell out with them, and  exhibited with Wassily Kandinsky’s Munich-based group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in 1912. He clearly was found it difficult to work with artists working in a similar style – possibly reflecting his politics. Many of the Expressionists were relatively Radical while he was a German Nationalist who joined the Nazi Party relatively early in 1920. And it’s this latter point which has attracted a lot of attention in reviews of the Exhibition. Can you like and admire work by someone who adhered to such views? Ironically, like other Expressionists, the Nazi regime considered him to be a “Degenerate Artist”, having his pictures removed from public galleries and forbidding to produce any work. Despite this he remained an ardent supporter with anti-Semitic views.

I hadn’t particularly read up on Nolte before I visited the exhibition and wasn’t aware of his obnoxious politics, so this wasn’t something I was thinking about during my visit (although I started to clock this when reading some of the information panels in the exhibition), and I viewed the works with something of an open mind. My impression was that he was a talented artist who painted some quite stunning, colourful pictures in both oil and watercolour, drawings, etchings, and woodcuts. The works on display included portraits, landscapes, seascapes, scenes of Berlin café culture, views of the River Elbe, and paintings and drawings from his travels to the South Seas.

As usual, no photos allowed and not many of the pictures from the exhibition are on the NGI website, so here’s only a limited selection.

Party (1911), one of his paintings of Berlin night life before WW1


A lithograph from a series of 121 identical prints of a young couple, coloured by hand after printing. There were 68 variations, using different colours. 4 of the prints were on display


Candle Dancers (1912)


One of several beautiful, dramatic seascapes – Ruffled Autumn Clouds (1927)


I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition. The bright colours and abstract style and the subject matter. the only paintings I didn’t particularly like were some of his religious works. For me, there were no real, obvious, blatant, reference to his political views in the works on display. Even the series of works from his visit to the South Seas as part of the German “Medical Demographic Exhibition” where he was meant to study the “racial characteristics” of the population, were sympathetic portrayals of the indigenous people.

So back to the difficult question. There are plenty of artists whose work I like who held views that were an anathema to me or where it has come to light that they committed some awful, horrific acts (Eric Gill comes to mind – he produced sublime work but abused his daughters). To some extent, Nolde’s support for the Nazis makes me want to dislike his work but I didn’t. There were plenty of other people who supported the Nazis too, who, like Nolde, were “rehabilitated” after the war. And, as I’ve already commented, I couldn’t see any blatant political reference in his work. So I’m not going to say I didn’t like what I saw, but reading up about the artist after seeing the exhibition certainly left something of a sour taste.




Coastlines at the IMMA


I could have stayed longer in Galway but I had some work to do in Naas on the Wednesday so on Tuesday I took the train to Dublin followed by the bus to Naas. But I decided to break the journey and call into the IMMA to have a look at their Coastlines exhibition.

Drawing on the paradox implicit in the word ‘coastline’ – for never has a coast followed a linear course – the title of this exhibition throws a line around a 12 month programme of changing displays of artworks and archival material that will explore our sense of place, perception, representation and memory.

The exhibition occupies the majority of the gallery space in the East Wing of the main building. Exhibits include works by a diverse range of international artists including Bridget Riley, Richard Long and Dorothy Cross. I have to say I found the connection with “coastlines” somewhat tenuous in some cases, particularly in the first few rooms. But it was an excellent exhibition with a good selection of art. So here’s a selection of favourites.

The very first room had Op Art works by artists including Bridget Riley on show and also this untitled 3D work by Alexandra Wejchert


In the next room, a work by Patrick Heron Emerald with Reds and Cerulean (1972)


Frequency (2004-5) by Anita Groener


Moon and Hill (1972), one of several works by Gerda Froemel, a sculptor I discovered during a previous visit to the IMMA in 2015 when they had an exhibition devoted to her


Kilkenny Limestone Circle – unmistakeably by Richard Long


Land Fall II (2005) a dramatic, stormy sea by Donald Teskey, an Irish artist from County Limerick who specialises in seascapes of the west of Ireland


By the same artist, a series of sketches from 2004.


Munla Soghlualste (1972), another sculpture by Gerda Froemel


Ebb Tide, Lissadell (undated) by T P Flanagan


Lake and Blue Mountains of Connemara (c1935) by Paul Henry


The last two rooms in the exhibition really stood out. The Paul Henry painting was displayed in a room where the floor was covered with a large scale map of the Arran Islands (which are in Galway Bay, not far from where I’d just been staying and are also somewhere I want to visit)


It was difficult to portray in a photo as was the main work displayed in the final room – Tabernacle by Dorothy Cross.  It’s a multimedia featuring a structure constructed from an upturned curach (a type of boat used in the west of Ireland, particularly Galway, the Arran Islands and Connemara) a wooden shed together with a video of the sea shot from inside a cave near the artist’s home.


I thought it was an impressive work, evoking the atmosphere of the west coast of Ireland.

The exhibition runs until the end of September and I expect I’ll be back to take another look when I’m over in Ireland later in the year.