Irish Art

Olivier Cornet Gallery

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Jordi Forniés City Assembly House

‘Counterpoint’, a solo show of new works by Jordi Forniés City Assembly House, 58 South William Street, Dublin 2 12th-30th April 2015The Olivier Cornet Gallery is delighted to present ‘CONTRAPUNTO’, an exhibition of new works by gallery artist Jordi Forniés. The show opens on Sunday, 12th April, 3 pm, at the Octagonal Room, City Assembly house (All welcome).   The Counterpoint is a musical term that describes the combination of two or more melodic lines in such a way that they establish a harmonic relationship while retaining their linear individuality.   Jordi Forniés is currently in Asia for two research masters: one based on the interaction of painting and music, with the Lasalle College of the Arts (in Singapore) and Goldsmiths University of London, and another one based on the use of unconventional materials in painting with The University of Sydney.   “The concern of counterpoint was not the successful and supplemental addition of the voices, but organization of music in such a way that is had an absolute need of each voice contained within it – that each voice and each note fill a precise function within the texture. The structure must be so conceived that the relationship of the voices to each other determines the progression of the entire composition and, ultimately, its form.”  Theodor W. Adorno (“Philosophy of New Music”, first published in 1949)   The show, which is accompanied by a catalogue, will run until April 30. For more information, contact us at +353 (0)87 2887261

Jordi Forniés City Assembly House

Modoc Studios

5 Cavendish Row

Parnell Square

Dublin 1

Opening hours: Tues to Fri: 11am to 6pm (8pm on Thursdays)

Sat and Sun: 12 noon to 5pm

Closed on Mondays (or viewing by Appointment only)

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Twitter: OC_Gallery

Phone: 087-2887261

Olivier Cornet Gallery Dublin

Located at 5 Cavendish Row, in the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, the heart of Georgian Dublin, the Olivier Cornet Gallery is one of Ireland’s most exciting contemporary fine art galleries, representing accomplished Irish-based visual artists, working in a variety of media such as painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography, fine prints and digital art.

Olivier Cornet Gallery Dublin


Art Exhibitions Dublin

The gallery organises 7 or 8 solo/group shows every year and various exhibition-related events, in collaboration with other cultural workers and practitioners of other art forms in Dublin’s city centre and beyond.

Art Gallery Dublin


Dublin Art Gallery

Irish Art

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida

The Valencian impressionist Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida was one of Spain’s best-loved artists. Although he enjoyed success in Europe (he won the Grand Prix and Medal of Honour at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, and Spain’s equivalent honour in 1899), it was in the US that his career really took off. There he quickly became feted as one of the greatest exponents of European impressionism as well as an outstanding portrait artist.

see also, Dublin Art Galleries

Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida

Like most artists of the era, he painted captivating scenes of the lives of ordinary people and places, but it is his mastery of light that most defined his work. Claude Monet described Sorolla as “the master of light”.

An exhibition of his work, Sorolla and the United States, is about to close at the Fundación Mapfre in Madrid. There is also plenty more of the great man’s work to admire in Madrid between the Sorolla Museum and Prado museums.

Beginning with one of Sorolla’s trademark giant paintings of a beach scene, called Sad Inheritance, the exhibition describes how this dramatic masterpiece of light, anatomy and movement of the sea became his calling card for a number of influential patrons who were to become an important conduit in his career.

Columbus portrait

Irish-American Thomas Fortune Ryan was one of the first to jump into the world of Sorolla. He commissioned a portrait of Christopher Columbus to mark the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America.

Sorolla went to Valencia, from where Columbus had sailed, and produced a series of nine oil sketches as well as the finished product, using a direct descendant of the famous explorer as a model and a life-size mock-up of the Santa Maria. Ryan bought the lot and all are on display in the Fundación Mapfre.

From then, Sorolla’s star rose in meteoric style, thanks to a number of sell-out exhibitions in the US and a flurry of commissions.

A millionaire railroad magnate with a fascination for Spanish culture became his most important patron. Archer Huntington commissioned several works from Sorolla and introduced him to the cream of the rising upper classes of American society.

From 1908 onwards, Sorolla became established as the foremost portrait painter in the US. He produced a number of paintings for the new American aristocracy, including a portrait of William Howard Taft, who was then the president.

But it is Sorolla’s beach shoreline scenes under the hot Valencian sun that made him famous, seducing American society and eliciting admiration from his peers, as well as making him and his family wealthy.

The Mapfre exhibition features some of the very best of Sorolla’s work, gathered from various private American collectors. There are also preparatory sketches, including a fascinating series of gouache drawings of views from his lodgings in New York. They are vivid snapshots of the city in the early 1900s. “Definitely, America was his future,” says Covadonga Pitarch, curator of the Sorolla Museum in Madrid.

She says Sorolla’s wife, Clotilde, was the marketing professional and held the purse strings. Clotilde donated the house and its artistic contents to the Spanish state after her husband’s death, and it now houses the Sorolla Museum.

Walking through the house feels like a privilege. The place seduces from the word go, as you meander through the beautiful gardens to find the main entrance.

From the first room, where some of his better-known pieces are kept, you are reminded of the fact that he was a devoted family man. There are portraits of his wife, three daughters and son everywhere. There are paintings of the Sorolla family at the seaside in Valencia, by the beach in Galicia, relaxing in the house or the garden, running or skipping rope. All are painted with a quick hand. Some of those of huge dimensions were made using brushes with homemade extensions.


Sorolla also produced frescoes and he painted a beautiful series of them on the ceiling and upper parts of the walls of the dining room of the house, depicting fruits and his family.

There are several studies and sketches illustrating the fastidious attention to detail with which he treated his compositions and showing how he practised techniques on how to best portray the elements’ play on boats, sails and human bodies.

His double-height studio contains a lot of unfinished work, including most poignantly his last incomplete painting. It is set on an easel with his paints and brushes to the side. He had been painting it in the garden when he collapsed from a brain aneurysm that left him incapacitated until his death three years later in 1923, at the age of 60.

Seán Keating wanted to establish an authentically Irish school of art. It’s debatable how successful he was, but there’s no denying the importance of his paintings to our history.

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‘Sacred and Profane Love’ by Sean Keating (1937), reproduced with kind permission of a private owner and the Keating estate.

Two incarnations typify popular images of Seán Keating. In one he is the quintessential painter of the Irish Free State, boldly mythologising the War of Independence, the hardy islanders on the western seaboard and the heroic industrial endeavour of the Shannon hydroelectric scheme. In the other, some decades later, he is a stern, bearded ascetic, bemusedly mocking the pretensions of modern art in a television interview with Colm Ó Briain. Fans of the first incarnation are quite likely to approve of the second, and critics of one are likely to disapprove of the other as well.

In her new book on the artist, Éimear O’Connor aims to present a more complex, revisionist portrait. Although Keating has been perceived as a diehard conservative flatly opposed to modernity, she argues, in fact he was in favour of modernisation, critical of governmental and clerical failure, and egalitarian in his sympathies.

One of 11 children, Keating was born in Limerick in 1889 to Joseph and Annie Keating. Four of his siblings died in infancy. His elder brother Paul was ordained a priest in 1918 but died a year later in the influenza epidemic on his first posting, in Brisbane. Never a zealous pupil, Keating played truant from St Munchin’s College and hung around the waterside, learning French from the Breton fishermen whose boats were moored there.

Although Keating remained a staunch Catholic throughout his life, with a fondness for the Latin Mass and its rituals, O’Connor notes that he was wary of clerical involvement in the State. He was also more than vague about his history, tending to “proletarianise his background”. His mother, who was a dressmaker, and his father, who was a bakery manager, lived through turbulent times in Limerick and worked hard to keep things together. Keating spent much of his teens “fishing, smoking, talking”, and hunting by night: “It wasn’t the killing that was exciting, but the chase.”

After his mother fixed him up with a job at Cannock’s department store, he had an epiphany: he would go to art school. His evident talent earned him a stipend as an art pupil teacher. From the beginning he was taught in the South Kensington method, which was characterised by the historian John Turpin as not so much art education as “art teacher education”. On an initial visit to Dublin he met William Orpen, whom he idolised and befriended, and who encouraged him to apply for a three-year scholarship to Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, the precursor of today’s National College of Art and Design. Subsequently, he spent 1915 in London working as Orpen’s studio assistant.

Authentically Irish Art

Keating first visited the Aran Islands in about 1913 and returned regularly thereafter. He was very taken with the appearance and character of the islanders, and they largely inspired the idealised Gaels who populate many of his canvases. This was part of a conscious attempt to establish an authentically Irish school of art, with its own style and iconography. He features as a model in Orpen’s ambitious, though very odd, allegorical painting The Holy Well, set against a stylised version of the Aran Islands. Unfortunately, Keating was greatly influenced by the work’s arch theatricality in devising his own allegorical pictorial method.

Through Conradh na Gaeilge he met May Walsh, a young Kildare woman of independent temperament and left-wing socialist views, who was agnostic. They married in 1919. Working at the time as secretary to Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, May remained politically active throughout her life and was an advocate for women’s rights. Though she later made a point of saying that she did not influence her husband’s work, it seems likely that there was some overlap of concerns.

Men of the West, exhibited in 1917, was a benchmark painting for Keating. Drawing on the iconography of the western seaboard, and with the artist and one of his brothers as models, it vividly mythologises Irish rebels. Its sequel, Men of the South, is a better work and a key painting in Irish art history. Painted in difficult circumstances during the War of Independence, it is more realistic in its depiction of hardened, ruggedly unkempt guerrillas. It was drawn directly from life and, apparently, to a large extent from Keating’s photographs of members of Seán Moylan’s North Cork Brigade.

O’Connor points out that, contrary to popular belief, Keating was not commissioned by the Electricity Supply Board to document the huge Shannon hydroelectric scheme at Ardnacrusha. He embarked on the project, which lasted from 1925 to 1929, on his own initiative because he approved of the controversial undertaking. Critics, including the Catholic Church, attacked it as a waste of money, but Keating saw it as vital for national development.

Never quite at ease as a landscape painter per se, he nonetheless did something exceptional in his Ardnacrusha and, later, Poulaphouca series, the latter dealing with the building of the hydroelectric generating facility on Blessington Lake in Co Wicklow. He meticulously and objectively detailed the large-scale industrial alteration of the landscape, concentrating on the engineering processes involved. In fact, it is striking that landscape is always invested with cultural meaning in his work, including his western seascapes. It is never simply an idealised vision of untouched nature.

True, his more contrived, allegorical pictures of the hydroelectric schemes are more awkward than the straightforwardly documentary images, but they don’t detract from his remarkable achievement. Both sets of work are in the collection of the ESB. It’s worth noting that Keating travelled relatively little outside Ireland, but one excursion, his voyage to Algeria on Irish Hazel under the auspices of Irish Shipping in 1947, engendered some fine painting and enlivened his palette.

He was closely involved with two institutions throughout his working life: Dublin Metropolitan School of Art-National College of Art and Design and the Royal Hibernian Academy. He was elected to the RHA in 1923 and later served as its president, a post from which he resigned in 1962, reputedly unhappy with the artistic direction of the organisation.

The saga of his teaching career is labyrinthine, with prolonged, bitter infighting and politicking involving his superiors, colleagues and the Department of Education. Against the odds, Keating survived several concerted attempts to get rid of him, including a strong recommendation in the confidential section of the 1927 French report, a review of the art school. He was a professor from 1934 and, although he was due to leave the National College of Art and Design in 1952, he stayed six further years and relinquished his studio there only in 1962.

A substantial part of his income came from portraiture, but he was an uneven portrait painter, as many examples reproduced in the book attest. Brian Kennedy has pointed out that some of his best portraits are of people close to him, often in group compositions. And there are some really noteworthy successes, including several studies of May. Another outstanding work, The Tipperary Hurler, an imposing painting, is largely based on the former IRA man Ben O’Hickey, who bore a close resemblance to the renowned John Joe Hayes.

Keating was dragged into the public dispute over the Hugh Lane Gallery’s 1942 refusal of Georges Rouault’s Christ and the Soldier . As a member of the gallery’s advisory committee, he said nothing publicly in the early stages of the controversy, O’Connor writes, until comments made in what he took to be a private phone conversation with either the then editor, Robert Smyllie, or deputy editor, Alec Newman, of The Irish Times appeared in print. The Rouault was, he was reported as saying, “not a work of art”; it was “naive, childish and unintelligible”. A lively correspondence ensued, Myles na gCopaleen chipped in and relations between Keating and Louis le Brocquy, previously friendly, cooled permanently.

O’Connor implies that there was something unwitting or ambivalent about Keating’s identification with the cause of artistic conservatism, which saw him lumped in with a broader, politically and religiously conservative camp, yet many of his statements tend to suggest otherwise. When he wrote approvingly of the artist as a rebel, he seemed to have himself specifically in mind as the rebel of choice, and to believe that others should conform to his ideas.

Polarised opposition

A simple reading of Irish art history in the first half of the 20th century suggests a polarised opposition between conservative representation and modernist abstraction, with Keating firmly in the former camp. The demise of modernism allows us to revisit this history and reassess the virtues of Keating’s apparent stylistic conservatism in the light of his real, passionate concern for contemporary historical issues. Such is O’Connor’s case.

The problem with it is the inherent limitations of Keating’s work, even considered in purely representational terms. His pictorial allegories are interesting historical documents but they are not great art, and much of his work leans towards the propagandist simplicity of Soviet social realism. That certainly doesn’t take one whit from the core of his achievement, which is considerable: a substantial body of fine paintings that are outstanding in themselves, helped create the iconography of the emergent Irish nation, and are an essential part of our history.

Seán Keating: Art, Politics and Building the Irish Nation is published by Irish Academic Press

see also, Dublin Art Galleries

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