‘The loveliest thing ever made by an Irishman’


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!


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.

The Secret Gallery

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During the first afternoon of my recent stay in Dublin I decided to visit the Hugh Lane Gallery, the Dublin City 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. I think this is partly because it’s a little off the beaten track, on the far side of Parnell Square at the top of O’Connell Street, but also because they don’t seem to publicise themselves at all.

During my visit I did my usual trick of going around the gallery quickly before deciding what to go back and see in more detail, in this case after I’d had a bite to eat in their rather nice cafe. So what did I concentrate on? Well the marvellous Harry Clarke stained glass, their collection of major Impressionist paintings – Manet’s large portrait of Eva Gonzalez, Renoir’s Les Parapluies, Monet’s Waterloo bridge and their Berthe Morisot’s Jour d’Été. And some favourite paintings by Irish artists including Camille Souter, Patrick Campbell, William Scott and Isolated Being, a really haunting painting by Louis Lebroquy.

I’m beginning to take more of an interest in video works. Although I often find them pretentious and incomprehensible, over the past few years I’ve discovered a number of works that I’ve found interesting, amusing and/or stimulating. One such example being shown in the Hugh Lane was The dene ”vignette" by a young Irish artist, Niamh O’Malley. She had filmed corner of a park with people walking through it and superimposed a painting of the scene on it. It reminded me of some recent works by David Hockney that I’ve seen where he overdraws on scenes he photographs.

There were relatively few visitors while I was there – at times it almost seemed that I had the place to myself. Perhaps I shouldn’t publicise it and keep it as a secret known only to a select few – but that would be selfish. And I’m not the only one for whom it’s a favourite – Redhenrun is a fan as well and has written an excellent post about the gallery and it’s history. She tells of how its foundation was supported by the Trade Union leader Jim Larkin while opposed by William Martin Murphy, the leader of the employers during the Great Dublin Lockout of 1913. Another good reason for the Gallery to have a place in my affections.

The Eve of St Agnes – Artistry in glass

During my short stay in Dublin I visited the Hugh Lane Gallery in Parnell Square. Originally called The Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, it houses an excellent collection of modern and contemporary art.

One of the exhibits that really took my eye was the stained glass window by the Irish artist Harry Clarke inspired by the poem The Eve of St Agnes  by John Keats. It was completed in 1924 and it’s style and design is very much influenced by Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts Movement.It was created using double-layered glass, repeatedly acid-etched, with minute detail scratched into the paint layers using a needle.

The image above really does not do this marvellous work of art justice – it really needs to be seen “in the flesh”. It’s incredibly detailed and beautifully composed and the colours are deep, rich and vibrant. It’s a really amazing work.