Review: Girl Reading by Katie Ward

I am always excited to discover a book that combines my two passions – books and art – and Girl Reading does so exceedingly well. I have been getting into reading short stories more of late, and this is a wonderful collection.

11292802Girl Reading

Katie Ward

Virago Press (2011, this edition 2012)

Short stories – historical and contemporary fiction

This is an intriguing book, it has seven chapters or stories each focusing on an image of a girl or woman reading. I have also seen it described as a novel, but while it does come together at the end, it reads more like a collection of short stories to me. There is a great range in place and time – from early Renaissance Sienna to Victorian England to a futuristic virtual world. Each story is a world of its own, and completely involving at that. I loved how the final story linked the others together, but I also feel each story/chapter was very strong on its own.

Ward creates memorable and compelling characters – the twins who had a childhood career as mediums in the Victorian story are particularly striking, as is her innocent young artist in the Bloomsbury group-esque gathering at Arnault House, and her disillusioned political assistant having a drink in a London bar in the recent past.

I was resilient when I was younger. Headstrong. No one could talk me out of anything or stop me doing something I wanted to do. Recently I have begun to have doubts. Recently I’ve realised that version of myself has gone away.

There is a range of art forms too, from an altarpiece to a sketch to a photo posted on Flickr. The descriptions of the processes of studio photography in Victorian England were very interesting, but doesn’t take away from the story. There is a note at the end of the book (and links on Ward’s website) relating to the artworks that inspired the various stories. However, they work with or without this reference point. Art is central to each narrative, but so is identity, the sitter’s appearance and their inner life.

This is a book I have been thinking about since I finished reading it. The short story is a real art, and Ward succeeded in creating characters who are nuanced and complex, and who seem to live beyond the short page count of their narratives. A book I would recommend to readers with an interest in art, or with an interested in varied and absorbing narratives about women throughout history.


The Private World of Sir John Lavery (1856-1941) at the Ulster Museum, Belfast

This exhibition, bringing together both landscapes and family portraits, offers a fascinating insight into the private life of this prolific painter. As both a society painter and a war artist, Sir John Lavery tended to paint elaborate and grand works. The paintings on display in the Ulster Museum are more muted, showing a quieter side to his art. The works were all part of Lavery’s private collection, and he donated them to the museum. Lavery donated 34 paintings in total to the museum, a selection of these works appear in this museum. My favourites are discussed below. I would highly recommend visiting the Ulster Museum to see this exhibition (and others!) in person.

2015-08-06 12.41.23Eileen in Primrose Yellow (1926)

Eileen was Lavery’s daughter from his first marriage, and she appeared in a number of his paintings. In this painting, Eileen is elegantly posed but there is a sense of warmth and intimacy that differentiates this portrait from society paintings. In another work in the exhibition dating from 1901 we see a young Eileen making her First Holy Communion.

2015-08-06 12.43.13

Alice (1919)

Alice was the daughter of Lavery’s second wife, Hazel. This painting is unusual among Lavery’s oeuvre not only for its small scale, but also as it is painted on board. In this painting, there is a sense of calm and repose as Alice is immersed in her reading, seemingly unaware of the viewer. The quiet mood of this work contrasts completely with The Artist’s Studio (1909-13, National Gallery of Ireland) a large scale, ostentatious family portrait painted by Lavery that has echoes of Las Meninas by Velasquez. As one of the gallery attendants pointed out to my friend and I, Alice is set in Lavery’s studio as can be seen when the work is compared to Daylight Raid from my Studio Window 7 July 1917 (discussed below).

2015-08-06 12.44.42

The Green Coat (1926)

Lady Hazel Lavery was the artist’s second wife, and frequently modelled for his paintings. Lavery was enthralled by his wife’s beauty, painting her time and time again. She even appeared on Irish pound notes in the guise of Éire, the female personification of Ireland. Lavery depicts his wife as graceful and elegant. He often accentuated her height in his paintings, as he has done here by painting a mantlepiece behind her. She is an almost ethereal figure, like a fairy queen in her green  coat. The green could be read as patriotic, and it is possible to see this as another depiction of Hazel as Éire. The way she looks off into the distance lends an air of mystery to the work. The mirror behind her shows her opulent costume to its full effect, and Hazel’s bare shoulders and neck give her a seductive appearance. She often appears wearing exotic outfits in these works – such as in the aforementioned The Artist’s Studio, in which she wears a tall feather headdress.

2015-08-06 12.46.03

Daylight Raid from my Studio Window 7 July 1917

This work can be seen as an intersection between Lavery’s private life and his work as a war artist. The painting is set in his studio, in which we can see canvases and paint brushes. The blackout blinds on the window allude to the ongoing conflict. Hazel Lavery can be seen at the sofa, looking out the window. The window and the scene of the air raid are enormous, dwarfing all other elements of the composition. This is a very deliberate decision which shows the overwhelming impact of war and how it makes everyday life seem small and insignificant. The work is rapidly painted, capturing the planes in the sky.

The Private World of Sir John Lavery (1856-1941) is an engaging and enjoyable exhibition that offers a glimpse into the artist’s life. The small number of works on display makes it possible to study each, and makes the exhibition accessible. The attendant working in the gallery when I visited was very friendly and helpful, and I really appreciated all the extra information he gave myself and my friend.

New Harry Clarke Panel at the Hugh Lane Gallery

I was very excited to hear that the Hugh Lane Gallery had acquired a new Harry Clarke panel. Entitled Mr Gihooley, it was intended to be part of the famous Geneva Window. This panel developed a crack and was replaced in the final piece. Harry Clarke (1889-1931) is arguably Ireland’s greatest exponent of stained glass, His meticulous technique, jewel-like colours and eeried, elongated figures are highly distinctive.


The Geneva Window (1926-30) was a late Clarke window, commissioned by the Irish government for the League of Nations building in Geneva. Clarke’s window has eight panels illustrating the works of contemporary Irish authors such as James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Sean O’Casey. However, the completed window never made it to Geneva. The government were scandalised by some of Clarke’s imagery, particularly the Mr Gilhooley panel, which they wanted replaced with an alternative image. The government felt the window would cause ‘grave offence’ and considered it unsuitable to represent Ireland on an international stage. The window was owned by the Clarke family for a number of years, but is now in the Wolfsonian-Florida International University collection. I hope to get to see the full window some day, but to have a panel here in Dublin is a real treat for fans of Harry Clarke.

Geneva Window, image from

Geneva Window, image from

The Mr Gilhooley panel depicts Nelly, a character from Liam O’Flaherty’s controversial novel. She is shown dancing, scantily clad in diaphanous veils. The diagonal fall of her veils is elegant and creates a sense of motion, evoking her dance. The small panel of text from the novel reads: ‘She came towards him, dancing, moving the folds of the veil, so that they unfolded slowly, as she danced.’ Clarke’s sensuous image of this dancing, semi-naked woman created similar consternation as the novel. The crack that developed in the piece is evident in the leading across Nelly’s soldiers. The fine detail in the paintwork is reminiscent of Clarke’s intricrate illustrations for Andersen, Poe and Perrault.


The panel is a fine example of Clarke’s masterful aciding technique and the colour is exquisite. This aciding technique is also why Clarke’s windows are so fragile. Nelly’s veils are flame-like and delicate, decorated with little patterns and beading. Clarke’s windows are immediately recognisable for their richness of colour, with rose-gold dominant here. The pinks, yellows and reds create a warm, even fiery, image, Nelly’s hair seems to glow. Her body, in contrast, seems to be almost grisaille, making her a statuesque figure. Nelly’s graceful, elongated form is typical of Clarke’s style, showing the influence of Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations.


In the Hugh Lane Gallery this panel is displayed in the stained glass room which features Clarke’s The Eve of St Agnes (1924) and windows by artists including Evie Hone and Wilhelmina Geddes. The windows in this room are in a variety of styles and show the breadth and wealth of skill in Irish stained glass.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books for Art Lovers

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and The Bookish, and this week’s topic is Top Ten Books for Readers Who Like ‘X’. My arty books are a mix of children’s, YA and adult titles for my fellow gallery fans.

1) The Hare With The Amber Eyes – Edmund de Waal (Adult/Non Fiction)


Image from Goodreads

This is a fascinating tale of the history of netsuke (Japanese objects, typically carved from ivory or wood, used to suspend objects from the obi (belt) of traditional costume. They also functioned as status symbols and art objects) in the author’s family. It gives a wonderful insight into the world of the Impressionists, and is a rich and evocative tale.

2) Wings Over Delft – Aubrey Flegg (YA)


Image from Goodreads

In seventeenth-century Delft, Louise Eeden is having her portrait painted by Master Haitnik. In the studio she finds a respite from the stresses of her life and a freedom to be herself. She also feels a growing attraction for the apprentice, Pieter. A fascinating historical novel, the first in a trilogy about the painting of Louise.

3) To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf (Adult)

To the Lighthouse

Image from Goodreads

Artist Lily Briscoe is one of the central characters in this fantastic modernist novel, and there is much exploration of what it means to be an artist and to create in this novel. Interestingly, Virginia Woolf’s sister was an artist. Woolf is one of my favourite writers, and this book showcases her experimental and inventive style.

4) Chasing Vermeer – Blue Balliett, illustrated by Brett Helquist (Children’s)

Chasing Vermeer (Chasing Vermeer, #1)

Image from Goodreads

When a famous Vermeer painting disappears, Petra and Calder find themselves caught up in the mystery. They must solve the clues, and find the artwork. This is a fun read, with interactive elements such as codes to work out. There are a number of sequels which I really want to read!

5) From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler – E.L. Konigsburg (Children’s)


Image from Goodreads.

Two children run away from home, and decide to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While there, they make some important discoveries about a Michelangelo statue. A wonderfully funny children’s book, those kids were living the dream!

4) The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt (Adult)


Image from Goodreads

Donna Tartt’s much anticipated novel takes its title from Carel Fabritius’ famous painting. The novel opens with Theo and his mother visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, when terrorists strike. His mother is killed, and Theo’s life is altered completely. A complex and wonderfully written book.

7) The Girl With The Pearl Earring – Tracy Chevalier (Adult)

Girl With a Pearl Earring

Image from Goodreads

While I have my quibbles with the ending of this book, there is no doubt that it gives a fascinating glimpse of Vermeer’s life and has captured the imagination of many readers as it explores one of the artist’s most enigmatic works.

8) Girl Reading – Katie Ward (Adult)


Image from Goodreads

A collection of short stories, each focusing on a depiction of a girl reading – be it in a Renaissance altarpiece, or a Victorian photograph.A compelling read.

9) The Swan Thieves – Elizabeth Kostova (Adult)

Image from Goodreads

While I did not find this book as gripping as Kostova’s debut novel The Historian (which everyone should read!) I enjoyed the art side. There is the modern day tale of a man gripped by the beautiful woman he paints, but also a love story between two painters in the Impressionist era.

10) Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy – Michael Baxandall (Non Fiction)


Image from Goodreads

This is an art history book, but it is one I found so fascinating that I have read it many times. It offers a wealth of information about the creation of art in the Renaissance, and has been invaluable in my study of art history.

Any recommendations of arty books I have missed would be greatly appreciated! And if you’ve taken part in Top Ten Tuesday post a link to your list in the comments 🙂

The Frick Collection, New York


In the Sculpture Garden at The Frick Collection

It has been a while since I’ve had any art on the blog! Visiting The Frick Collection was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to New York. The collection is located on Fifth Avenue, across the road from Central Park, in the mansion of industrialist and art collector Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919). The collection opened to the public in 1935 and visiting it is a wonderful experience, as it is still designed to look like the Fricks’ home. It is a Gilded Age mansion, and the richly decorated interior complements the artworks perfectly. Objects from the silver collection and the decorative arts collection are also  on display, giving a sense of the domestic life of this mansion. There are no cordons or barriers, making for a very intimate and very relaxed atmosphere. The fact photographs cannot be taken (except in the Sculpture Garden) also adds to this sense of calm. I think it also encourages visitors to look at the paintings and enjoy the experience of seeing the works in person.

The museum is small enough, which really gives the visitor the chance to enjoy the works on display, and it is easy to cover the collection in a single visit, unlike some of the larger art institutions in New York! The Boucher room is beautifully laid out, with works on the theme of the Arts and Sciences – they have such subjects as Painting and Sculpture, Poetry and Music and Architecture and Chemistry. The paintings are oil on canvas, but appear like wall paintings. In another room there are four beautiful paintings by Boucher depicting the seasons. He uses a woman as an allegory to represent each season, winter wears a cloak and a muffler and is seated in a sleigh. As well as wonderful 18th century paintings like these, the collection features much 18th century French furniture. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of paintings and sculptures with decorative arts throughout the museum.

Among the Impressionist works on display is La Promenade by Renoir. Visually similar to Les Parapluies, this work depicts a governess out walking with two young girls. Renoir’s light feathery brushwork is distinctive in one of his many depictions of the Parisian bourgeoisie. Another Impressionist work I enjoyed seeing was Degas’ The Rehearsal. One of the artist’s many depictions of dancers this painting shows a group of ballerinas practising, with a violinist playing in the foreground.

The Sculpture Garden in the centre of the Frick is beautiful; the statuary, fountain and greenery making a very calm space. In this garden, and really in the Frick in general, it is easy to forget you are in such a busy city!


Seeing the three Vermeers in The Frick Collection was definitely a highlight of my visit. Mistress and Maid (the last painting purchased by Henry Clay Frick) reminds me of Woman Writing a Letter with Her Maid, the Vermeer in the National Gallery of Ireland. Letter writing is a frequent theme in Vermeer’s work, and indeed in Dutch genre scenes of this era. This work also shows Vermeer’s fascination with light – in the reflections captured in pearls, glass and silverware. There is also an ambiguity so often found in Vermeer’s work, as we wonder about the contents of the letter.  Officer and Laughing Girl  also features subtle storytelling. It seems that the girl is entertaining a suitor, and the map on the wall hints to the officer’s profession and his travels. The setting is familiar from other works – it is Vermeer’s studio. Having written an essay on Girl Interrupted at Her Music, I was delighted to see it in person. The theme of music is also prominent in Vermeer’s work, featuring in 12 of his paintings. There are many interpretations of this painting – the man may be the girl’s music teacher, or her suitor ready to partake in a duet with her. However, the empty chair and the way the girl gazes out of the painting could suggest that she is waiting for someone to arrive.

I would highly recommend a visit to the Frick Collection. With its opulent interiors, fascinating collection and very calm atmosphere, it has been one of my favourite galleries. Find out more about the collection here.




Vermeer at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

When I was in New York last month, I visited the wonderful Metropolitan Museum of Art and spent hours wandering through the different galleries. The Met has a vast collection, so I have decided to do a few posts focussing on specific works I enjoyed. Johannes Vermeer (1632-75) is one of my favourite artists, his mastery of lights and textiles is enchanting, and I am always intrigued by the quiet and mysterious stories in his paintings. Five of his works are in The Met – it was wonderful to see so many together! I hope to see them all in person – I have seen eighteen so far. The selection in The Met were quite varied – including an allegorical painting, a tronie or character study that has links to the famous Girl with a Pearl Earring, and some of his meticulously painted genre scenes.

Allegory of the Catholic Faith (c.1670-72)


In some ways this painting is rather different from other Vermeer paintings I have seen – rather than being a genre scene, it is a purely allegorical work. However, some aspects such as the tiled floor or the curtain drawn back to reveal the scene, are familiar. The painting is very interesting, and on closer examination it contains much symbolism – a bible crushes a snake, an apple on the ground recalls the Original Sin, the lady (representing Faith) stands on a globe and a glass ball suspended above her represents heaven.

Woman with a Lute (c.1662-63)


Music is a frequent theme in Vermeer’s art, featuring in twelve of his works. This reflects the importance of music in seventeenth century Dutch society, in which it was a popular pastime. I really enjoyed the Vermeer and Music show in the National Gallery of London last summer. The setting (Vermeer’s studio) and the ermine trimmed jacket are also familiar features of his work. The way the woman looks out of the window, the viola de gamba on the floor, and the songbooks on the table suggest that she is expecting company. These subtle hints of stories and relationships are part of the enigmatic charm of Vermeer’s work.

Study of a Young Woman (c.1665-67)


As in Girl with a Pearl Earring, the subject of this portrait stands out from the dark background. It is quite a small work, and is very striking. It is a tronie, or character study, in which the sitter is dressed in a costume. For all its simplicity, it is also a very technically skilful piece – the folds of the fabric are rendered beautifully, and the young girl’s face is very soft and distinctive. Like many of the women in Vermeer’s paintings, she wears a pearl earring, which catches the light, but the effect is less dramatic here than in other works.

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher (c.1662)


Another distinctive Vermeer painting, with the light falling from the left and his familiar studio setting, this work reminds me of The Milkmaid. The seventeenth-century Dutch costume is another attraction of these works, the attention to detail in their depiction shows the garments were expensive and valued. Vermeer’s genre scenes act as a record of social history. The small scale of the works, and their domestic themes reflect the economic prosperity of the Dutch Golden Age, in which the middle class or bourgeoisie formed a greater part of the market for paintings. This harmonious painting, capturing a moment of reflection in which the woman gazes out of the window, reflects the domestic life of this newly prosperous middle class.

A Maid Asleep (c.1656-57)


Unusually, this work is not set in Vermeer’s studio. However, the different setting is interesting as it gives us an insight into the seventeenth-century Dutch interior. The detail is exquisite – such as the embroidery on the table cloth. The empty chair at the table is intriguing – suggesting that the maid may have has company, and the open door behind her gives a tantalising glimpse into the rest of the house. The contents of the still life on the table and the maid’s rich attire further suggest that she may have been entertaining a guest, as does the painting of Cupid behind her. The painting within a painting often holds a clue to deciphering the story in Vermeer’s works, and adds another intriguing layer of interpretation.

Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York

MOMA was the first art gallery I visited on my trip to New York. We took advantage of the UNIQLO Free Friday Nights, which gives visitors free entry to MOMA between 4.00 and 8.00pm. Of course this meant it was very busy, but that added to the atmosphere and I feel I got to see the works on display well, and enjoy them.

The collection is very impressive, and includes works by Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, to name but a few! Below are some of my favourite works from the collection.

Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night (1889)

Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night (1889)

This was the painting I was most looking forward to seeing on my trip to New York, and it was definitely the highlight of my visit to MOMA. There was quite a crowd around this painting, but I managed to get to the front and spent a while admiring Van Gogh’s brushwork. It was amazing to see this familiar artwork in person, to see how richly textured the paint is in some places, while in other parts of the painting the canvas is still visible. The sense of movement created by the swirling brushwork makes this a powerful and expressive image. Seeing this painting in person was a very emotional experience, and I was quite moved.

Georges Seurat

Georges Seurat, Evening, Honfleur (1886)

I enjoy Georges Seurat’s pointillist technique, and I loved that it was used here not only for the painting but for the frame too! The application of tiny dots gives the painting an interesting, shimmering technique from afar, the dots are only visible up close. I love the technique of pointillist works, but I also enjoyed the use of colour in this work – particularly the pale sky and the pink tones in the clouds.

Pablo Picasso Desmoiselles d'Avignon (1907)

Pablo Picasso Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon (1907)

Another painting with a big crowd! It was great to see this famous Picasso painting in person, especially as it has played such a pivotal role in the development of Modernist styles. A key Cubist work, it highlights the fragmentation and flattened perspective that were to become so characteristic of the movement. Picasso’s interest in African art can also be seen in the use of masks, which give an eerie atmosphere to the painting.


Naum Gabo, Head of A Woman (c.1917-1920, after a work of 1916)

This was one of the works I spotted wandering around the gallery, and thought was very interesting. At first glance, I thought it was sculpted from paper but it is actually composed of celluloid and metal. It is displayed high up in a corner, giving the impression that this woman is looking down at the viewer.


Frida Kahlo, Fulang-Chang and I (1937)

I greatly admire Frida Kahlo’s work, and this was the first work of hers I have seen in person. I love the intensity of her self-portraits, and how distinctive her style is. I feel her self-portraits are very striking and unusual, and give a real sense of her inner life. There was a quote from the artist on the information panel that I feel sums up her work very well: “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” The frame was also very unusual, it was made some years after the painting, from glass which was then painted.


Roy Lichtenstein, Drowning Girl (1963)

Pop Artist Roy Lichtenstein’s works and their use of Ben Day dots are a familiar part of pop culture. I was surprised by the large scale of this work, but not by the melodramatic subject matter! This is an early work, and is based on imagery from a DC Comic. This use of popular imagery increased the appeal of his work. He not only sourced subject matter from comics and advertisements, but also copied commercial printing techniques creating a playful style.


Anselm Kiefer, Wooden Room (1972)

This large scale work caught my eye in one of the galleries for its masterful rendering of the texture of the wood. The unusual medium – charcoal on burlap – also added to its tactile appeal. The ‘wooden room’ is the artist’s attic studio, and this added to the interest of the work for me as it is such a personal and creative space. This, combined with the high level of skill evident in the work, made it very memorable and engaging.


Edward Ruscha, OOF (1962)

I enjoyed this work because it is good fun, something Ruscha has acknowledged when speaking about his work at this time: “I was interested in monosyllabic word sounds that seemed to have a certain comedic value to them.” It was another work that I just came across in the gallery – but it is certainly one that makes an impact!


Andy Warhol, Campell’s Soup Cans (1962)

It was really interesting to see two works by the famous Pop Artist Andy Warhol. The Campbell soup cans are so iconic and recognisable that it was strange to see them in person. Created using screen printing techniques, they offer a critique of advertising and commercialism. There are 32 canvases, each depicting a different soup flavour.


Andy Warhol, Gold Marilyn Monroe (1962)

Warhol’s Gold Marilyn Monroe is also on show, playing on the popularity of the star and how often her image has been reproduced. He creates her likeness in a Pop Art style, against a gold background.

Mark Rothko, No.3/No.13 (1949)

Mark Rothko, No.3/No.13 (1949)

Mark Rothko’s work makes striking use of colour, and the large scale gives an enveloping effect. It is one of many works the artist created using these hazy rectangular bands of colour. The softened edges of the different blocks of colour gives an effect of blending or blurring.

This is only a small selection of the works on display at MOMA. It is a very interesting and varied collection, well worth a visit!

Bookshops of New York!

I am just back from a fantastic holiday in New York, where I had a lot of fun adventures. I will be posting soon about the wonderful art galleries I saw there, but first here is a little bit about the bookshops I visited!

The Strand Bookstore (

DSCF0996 DSCF0997

18 miles of books! Established in 1927, this bookshop is a haven for book lovers, packed with new and old books and much more! What an amazing shop…there are many towering shelves, packed with books. It is also the setting of the wonderful YA novel Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. I could spend hours browsing the shelves – and there is a huge selection of art books too!

I managed to resist buying all the wonderful books in The Strand, but I am delighted with my new owl tote bag – can’t wait to use it.


Books of Wonder (





Books of Wonder has an excellent selection of children’s and YA books, but what I loved most was the exhibition of illustration. It is a fascinating selection – with prints by artists such as Oliver Jeffers, Chris van Allsburg and Steve Light, works based on the Wizard of Oz, some fantastic illustrations of the Narnia books and much more! It is an enchanting exhibition – and they have so many great books to browse too.



DSCF1377 DSCF1376

I bought Dangerous by Shannon Hale in Books of Wonder. I hadn’t heard of it before, but I have read a lot of Shannon Hale’s other books and really enjoyed them. Goose Girl is one of my favourite books, and I am looking forward to reading Dangerous – it seems quite different from her other work. Expect a review soon!


I would highly recommend both of these shops to any bookworms in or visiting New York City!


Review: Irish Women Artists 1870-1970 at Adam’s Auctioneers, Dublin


The Summer Loan exhibition in Adam’s Auctioneers showcases a century of art by Irish women. Some of the names (Evie Hone, Mainie Jellet or Lily Yeats) may be familiar, but others are lesser known, such as Lady Glenavy, Elizabeth Rivers or Hilda Geralda Van Stockum. Featuring works in a variety of media — including paintings, prints, embroidery and sculpture — this exhibition shows the breadth of creativity of often under-appreciated Irish female artists. While women artists have frequently been omitted from the canon of art history, the impact they have had on the course of Irish art is undeniable. They have founded artistic ventures such as the Dublin Painters Society and the Irish Exhibition of Living Art and helped establish modern artistic styles in Ireland. The art shown is interesting and varied, and proves that these artists are worthy of more attention than they have traditionally received.

At the Irish Women Artists 1870-1970 exhibition in Adam's Auctioneers. Photos by Ethna O’Brien, Adam Auctioneers.

At the Irish Women Artists 1870-1970 exhibition in Adam’s Auctioneers. Photos by Ethna O’Brien, Adam Auctioneers.

Previously, in order for a woman to become an artist she would have to be from a wealthy background. Painting could be considered a genteel, ladylike occupation, provided she used suitable subjects. Watercolour would be considered an appropriate medium — fittingly delicate. Rose Barton and Helen Mabel Trevor are examples of female artists working at a time when watercolour painting was first receiving recognition. These works may seem conservative now, but at the time painting en plein air and using exotic settings was different. A professional female artist like Sarah Purser, however, was a real rarity, and she became the first full female member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1924. Not only was she a talented artist, but she was a powerful force in the Irish art world, founding such institutions as Irish stained glass corporation An Túr Gloine. One of Sarah Purser’s works, illustrated below, has been used for the exhibition poster.

Sarah Purser, A Visitor. Photos by Ethna O’Brien, Adam Auctioneers.

Sarah Purser, A Visitor. Photos by Ethna O’Brien, Adam Auctioneers.

This exhibition also features the work of pioneering Modernists such as Mainie Jellet, Evie Hone and Mary Swanzy. This trio helped to establish Cubist painting in a conservative Irish art world, and their work remains striking today. Works are also exhibited by Norah McGuinness and Nano Reid, who were chosen to represent Ireland in the Venice Biennale exhibition of 1950, the country’s first participation in this international show. McGuinness and Reid had both exhibited extensively in Ireland and abroad, but the choice of two female artists for Ireland’s introduction to the Venice Biennale was still a revolutionary move.

Mary Swanzy HRHA, Cubist Landscape. Photos by Ethna O’Brien, Adam Auctioneers.

Mary Swanzy HRHA, Cubist Landscape. Photos by Ethna O’Brien, Adam Auctioneers.


Mary Swanzy HRHA, Eleanora’s House. Photos by Ethna O’Brien, Adam Auctioneers.

Traditionally sculpture, being a more physical art form, has been an unusual one for women to work in. However, there have been notable Irish female sculptors, some of whom are represented in the exhibition. A small bronze sculpture by Imogen Stuart is on display. It depicts a group of children dancing; a public sculpture of the same grouping can be seen in Stillorgan. The sculptures on display are small, mostly in display cases along with books showing some of the illustrative work by female artists. In terms of prints, Elizabeth Rivers’ bold and striking work stands out. The fairy tale quality of Norah McGuinness’ illustrations and the satirical humour of Grace Gifford’s work show the variety of styles to be found in this field.


Imogen Stuart RHA Stillorgan Children. Photos by Ethna O’Brien, Adam Auctioneers.

The decorative arts have tended to be a female-dominated field, and have been given a lower status. While it has been dismissed, embroidery is a time-consuming art form, requiring great skill. Some of Lily Yeats’ work is on display including her striking night time scene, The GPO. These works are on a small scale, but are impressively precise.


Lily Yeats, The GPO Needlework panel. Photos by Ethna O’Brien, Adam Auctioneers.

The works in more traditional styles are hung downstairs, with the upper gallery reserved for Modernist works. While the exhibition is rather cluttered, it offers an impressive selection of art. The fact that many of the works are on loan from private collections means this is a rare chance to see some excellent examples of works by Irish women artists. There will also be two films playing in the upstairs gallery, about Mainie Jellet and Estella Solomons. The exhibition will be on display in the Ava Gallery in Clandeboye, County Down from the 7 August to the 5 September.

Irish Women Artists 1870-1970 will run in Adam’s Auctioneers, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin until the 31  July.

 Review originally written tn2 Magazine.

Review: 184th Annual Exhibition at the Royal Hibernian Academy

The Royal Hibernian Academy’s Annual Exhibition is Ireland’s largest open submission exhibition. Over half of the works were selected from more than 2,300 entries, which are shown with work by RHA members and invited artists. With 567 works by 354 artists, it showcases an impressive array of media, styles and artists. Paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints and photographs are all featured, ranging in style from traditional to modern. The exhibition is typically composed of work by living artists, however there are a selection of works displayed in memory of the late Patrick Scott HRHA including a work from his 2007 series Meditations, which makes use of embossing techniques and gold foil, and follows on from the contemplative themes seen in his earlier works.

The works of emerging artists are exhibited alongside those by familiar names such as RHA member Pauline Bewick. Bewick has four works in the exhibition. Three of these are large canvases in her distinctively linear and fantastical style, but the fourth piece is quite different and not immediately recognisable as her work. Old Woman Remembering is a collage, combining a portrait of an old woman in ink and watercolour with lacework, a doily, drawings, text and postage stamps. The effect is charming, and in a way echoes the dreamlike quality of Bewick’s paintings. Other established artists exhibiting this year include Maeve McCarthy RHA, who has several small nocturnal scenes on display, and Eilis O’Connell RHA (whose sculpture Apples and Atoms was recently installed in Trinity College Dublin) has a number of works on paper in the exhibition. The space guaranteed for Academy members who wish to exhibit can be a contentious issue, especially when an artist works on a large scale. However, the chance to exhibit alongside prestigious artists is an important one and offers status to the newer artists whose work is on show.

Prints on display include At The Stroke of Midnight by Ann McKenna, an evocative and eerie Cinderella image that echoes Harry Clarke’s style. Her etchings often use fairy tale themes, and have an illustrative quality. Esther Breslin’s Snow Blanket Silence makes striking use of a panorama format. The colour changes across the image, moving from blues and whites to warmer pinks and a yellow glow emanating from a cabin. As with the other media on display, the prints show great variety. Jean Bardon, who has exhibited in previous RHA exhibitions,is represented by  The Garden of Perfect Splendour, Peonies which is typical of Bardon’s stylein the use of a gold leaf background, panels and floral motifs, also reflecting the influence of Japanese folding screens.

In terms of photography, there are works from Abigail O’Brien RHA’s With Bread exhibition from 2013. These images, taken at bakeries around Ireland, are named after different female artists whose work O’Brien has linked with the patterns in her photographs. Another striking work is Stephen Tierney’s The Weather in Delft in which the artist has taken Vermeer’s A Lady Writing A Letter With Her Maid, and removed the figures leaving an enigmatic and curiously empty image of a seventeenth century Dutch interior.

A combination of media can be seen in Kenneth Lambert’s art. His works behind domed glass have a nostalgic feel with the use of fighter plane motifs. They combine sculpture and painting, and the narrative element reflects his experience as an animator. Sculptures on display are in a variety of media — including Colm Lawton’s The Great Palindrome, which received The ESB Moran Award for Outstanding Sculpture, a clay-based work with astonishing attention to detail in its spiralling colonnades.

This year 14 awards were given, with a total prize fund of over €41,500. One such award is The Arthur Gibney Award for Architectural Content in any Medium. This was awarded to Terry Markey’s Constructed Action, a towering structure composed of planks of wood. Its rough textures and sharp angles provide visual interest, and it dominates the centre of the gallery in which it has been placed. The De Veres Art Award – for a work of distinction – was given to Ed Milano’s Prelude, a beautiful composition of 15 small panels with images of trees with yellow leaves in a silvery light. Alan Freney’s And Once I Was So Strong was awarded the prestigious Hennessy Craig Scholarship (prize fund €10,000), open to artists under the age of 35 who have studied in Ireland and are exhibiting in that year’s exhibition.

The works mentioned above are only a small number of those on display. The RHA Annual Exhibition offers an overview of contemporary Irish art, offering a diverse selection of media, subject matter and style. From the traditional to the experimental, it offers real variety and is an exhibition that is well worth several visits due to the sheer amount of works on show.

The 184th RHA Annual Exhibition runs until the 9th of August 2014 in the RHA Gallery, Ely Place, Dublin. Free Admission.

Review originally published on tn2 magazine’s website, see the original article for some images from the exhibition.