Exhibition Review: The International Style of Muriel Spark


Part of Muriel Spark 100, a programme of events celebrating the centenary of the birth of iconic writer Dame Muriel Spark, this exhibition in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh takes a journey through the various places Spark lived – Edinburgh, Africa, New York, London, Rome and Tuscany – showing the significance of these places to her work and charting her career. Mirroring the often unusual structure of Spark’s novels, the exhibition is not arranged chronologically, and it is possible to wander from section to section and explore Spark’s life and writing. I also love the design of the poster and postcards for the exhibition, as pictured above.

Featuring letters and telegrams from such illustrious names as Jacquelie Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Burton Taylor, Evelyn Waugh and Maggie Smith (to name but a few), the manuscript of Spark’s most famous novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and dresses Spark wore for publicity shoots; this is exhibition offers a fascinating insight into the writer’s world. Spark said that ‘since 1949 onwards I have thrown away practically nothing on paper’ and the NLS holds an impressive personal archive of her work and correspondence.

Image of Muriel Spark from NLS website

The only Muriel Spark novel I have read to date is Loitering with Intent (a brilliantly comic satirical book) but having been to this exhibition I am keen to read more of her work! Myself and the friend I was visiting in Edinburgh stumbled across this exhibition, it was a wonderful surprise and definitely one of the highlights of my trip.

I would highly recommend seeing this exhibition in person, entry is free and the National Library is a gorgeous building, but plenty of information and some of the exhibits can also be seen here on the National Library of Scotland’s website.

Review: A World of Colour Exhibition at the DLR LexIcon

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The ‘A World of Colour’ exhibition in the DLR LexIcon brings together the work of Chris Haughton and Beatrice Alemagna, two very talented illustrators and picturebook makers. The exhibition  was curated by Sarah Webb, the DLR Writer in Residence. Haughton and Alemagna have very different styles, and they make an interesting pairing for this exhibition.

The exhibition showcases original illustrations from many of their best known books, and offers viewers a valuable chance to examine these artworks on their larger original scale. Charming details are evident, and it is a joy to be able to see the mark-making on the page. Seeing originals also allows the viewer to consider the process of making a book, and in comparing the originals to the finished book to think about design and particularly text placement.

A wall showing collages Haughton made when planning A Bit Lost alongside finished illustrations from the book offers a fascinating insight into his process. The information panels, by picturebook expert Valerie Coghlan, give a brilliant introduction to each artist, information about their materials and process, and fun facts too! Her introduction to the picturebook also offers much food for thought when exploring the exhibition. I like that the images are allowed stand alone, only captioned, so the viewers can read the visual cues for themselves or simply enjoy these wonderful images.

There is a wonderful sneak peek of Beatrice Alemagna’s forthcoming book On a Magical Do-Nothing Day which will be published in English by HarperCollins this year. It has previously been published in French. There is a fantastic spirit of adventure and imagination in these pictures, I love the one where we are looking up at the little girl walking through a field.

This exhibition is a delight. From mischievous dogs to sleepy bears, curious children to strange creatures, there is so much to see. The bright and bold colours of Chris Haughton’s work are a visual treat, and one of the rugs he designed for his Fairtrade company Node is also on display. Seeing A Bit Lost on the original scale and in full vibrancy is worth the trip alone. Beatrice Alemagna’s work uses such a mixture of techniques, being able to examine her originals shows this off beautifully. I love her collage work in A Lion in Paris, it’s a marvellous book, and the portraits from What is a Child? are really beautiful.

Ultimately, these images work best in context. Where better to show them than in a library where readers young and old can then go find the books from which the images originated and answer lingering questions. Does the Haughton’s little owl in A Bit Lost find his way home? And what on earth does Alemagna’s lion get up to in A Lion in Paris?

Chris Haughton and Beatrice Alemagna will be interviewed by Margaret Anne Suggs (another wonderful illustrator, see Pigín of Howth written by Kathleen Watkins) at the Mountains to Sea Book Festival next month. This will be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about their art, well worth tying in with a trip to the exhibition. I will be giving family tours of the exhibition on March 26th, do join me!

The exhibition runs until the 31st of March, and is located on the 3rd floor of the DLR LexIcon library.


Ulster Museum Visit January 2017

I was visiting a friend in Belfast this weekend, and I was delighted we could fit in a visit to the Ulster Museum. Their art exhibitions are fantastic, and I haven’t been doing enough gallery-going lately.

Here are a few highlights from my visit.

Bare Life: Abstraction and Figuration in 20th Century British Art

This exhibition explored modernism, and the opposing modes of abstract and figurative art. There was a mixture of paintings, photographs and sculpture.


The highlight of this exhibition for me was the Duncan Grant painting Interior at Charleston (1918) which shows Vanessa Bell and David Garrett at Charleston, the house the three of them lived in. Bell is shown painting a still life and while Garrett is translating Dostoevsky. It offers a glimpse into the world of the Bloomsbury group, an avant garde group of creatives that I have a great interest in.

This is an essay I wrote about the art of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf.

The New Past: Irish Art from 1800 to 2016

I loved this exhibition. There was a wide selection of Irish painting on show, with works by such artists as Paul Henry, Sir John Lavery, Jack B Yeats, Margaret Clarke, Louis le Brocquy and Sarah Cecilia Harrison to name but a few. The exhibition is divided into sections – Invention, Theatre, Myth and After the Past.

Highlights of the exhibition for me included the wonderful Margaret Clarke self-portrait, Robin Redbreast. It was so different from other works by her I had seen (Stringbergian (1927), one of her better known paintings is also in the exhibition). This work was more realist in style. She has painted herself wearing a red waistcoat, part of the traditional dress of the Aran Islands.  Her expression is so compelling; she looks directly at the viewer and is quite vulnerable. I was captivated by this painting.


One of Sir John Lavery’s many portraits of his glamorous wife Hazel, The Green Coat (1926) was another highlight of the exhibition for me. It is a large scale work, and Hazel’s height is accentuated. She looks off into the distance and has an almost mystical quality about her, like a fairy queen.

Rita Duffy’s Titanic (2002) was another work I hadn’t come across before. It’s a small mixed media work, echoing the texture of the metalwork of the ship. This aspect of the work recalls engineering and industry in Belfast and the presence of the storm and the iceberg point to the tragic outcome of the voyage.

Another modern work I enjoyed was Elizabeth Magill’s Chronicle of Orange (2007). Her landscapes have quite an eerie, almost mystical quality yet details like electricity lines firmly ground them in the contemporary. The influence of Romantic painting is there, as is the influence of photography. Her use of colour is stunning, and I always enjoy her work.

If I had to pick an overall highlight, it would be Alicia Boyle’s Potato Washers (1949). It was a delight to see this as I had researched her sketchbooks as an intern in the National Gallery of Ireland a couple of years ago. Having seen some of the sketches for this work it was a real joy to see the actual painting, especially unexpectedly! I loved the vibrant use of colour and expressive brushwork.


There are many more wonderful artworks in both exhibitions, I would highly recommend a visit if you’re in Belfast. The Elements exhibition was also very interesting, particularly the part about poisons! Several great murder mystery ideas there…

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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.

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 (http://www.strandbooks.com/)

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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 (http://www.booksofwonder.com/)





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.



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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.

Happy International Children’s Book Day!

ICBD poster

International Children’s Book Day is happening on the 2nd of April and will be hosted by IBBY Ireland this year. The 2nd of April was Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday and so the event often centres around his work. A number of Irish children’s authors have collaborated on a rewriting of Andersen’s tales entitled Shoes, Ducks and Maids of the Sea – Retellings of Hans Christian Andersen. This collection will feature stories by Sarah Webb, Oisin McGann, Siobhán Parkinson, Paula Leyden, Deirdre Sullivan, Claire Hennessy, Sheena Wilkinson, Anna Carey and many more!  This e-book and IBBY Ireland’s new website http://www.imaginenations.ie will be launched at an event tonight.

As well as arranging a number of events during the day for children and adults, the host country is also responsible for the poster for the day and for selecting an author to write a message to the international community of child readers. The poster for 2014 was designed by the current Laureate na nÓg Niamh Sharkey and is very colourful, featuring one of her loveable monster characters. Former Laureate na nÓg Siobhán Parkinson wrote the letter, which can be read here.

“Without the writer the story would never be born; but without all the thousands of readers around the world, the story would not get to live all the lives it can live.”

One of the display cases in Trinity College Dublin

One of the display cases in Trinity College Dublin

To coincide with this event, the TCD Library display cases are showcasing a variety of collections of Hans Christian Andersen tales from the collection. There are many beautiful books on display, and I’ve just picked out a couple to show here.

The first is W Heath Robinson’s illustrations for a collection of Andersen’s tales published in 1913. I loved the two pages shown in the display, the detail is amazing and the contrast between the full colour image and the black and white illustration show the range of his style. The colour image illustrates The Snow Queen and the sumptuous colours and rich fabrics reflect her wealth. The black and white image is much starker, but the night sky is incredible and the skilful drawing is seen more clearly here.

W Heath Robinson illustrations, 1913

W Heath Robinson illustrations, 1913

One of my favourite illustrators P.J. Lynch is represented with his illustrations for The Snow Queen. The pages shown depict Gerda travelling to the Snow Queen’s kingdom, and the depiction of the Northern Lights is stunning. It captures the adventurous spirit of the story really well, and the sky really seems to shimmer. It is a mesmerising image!

The Snow Queen illustrated by PJ Lynch 1993

The Snow Queen illustrated by PJ Lynch 1993

Check out the blog post about International Children’s Book Day and the TCD display on the library blog here.

My personal favourite Andersen tale is The Snow Queen. The illustrations for this tale are usually fantastic, capturing the majestic figure of the queen herself and the stunning landscapes crossed during Gerda’s epic quest. The reason why I love this story is how empowered the heroine is. Gerda goes on an incredible journey to save her best friend Kai from the cruel Snow Queen and is one of the bravest and most active fairytale heroines out there. Andersen wrote a number of very well-known tales, including The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid (the original tale has a shockingly tragic ending). The fact that International Children’s Book Day, celebrated by 76 countries, is held on his birthday is a testament to the enduring appeal of his work.

I wish you all a very happy International Children’s Book Day, wherever you are and whatever you’re reading!

The Copper House Gallery – Art of Superstition

I loved The Copper House Gallery’s Art of Superstition exhibition last October, but sadly never got back after the opening night to get some photos and write a review. However, when I visited recently to review their exhibition Encore! for tn2 magazine (check out the review here!) I was delighted to find that some of the Art of Superstition illustrations were still on display upstairs. I have selected three very different responses to the theme of superstition, just a small selection of the works on display. These few pictures give an idea of the wide range of styles in contemporary Irish illustration. The full exhibition will be touring in future – if it comes to a gallery near you, it’s definitely worth checking out!

Niamh Sharkey – Three For A Funeral


One of many magpie images on display, Niamh Sharkey’s work appealed to me for her striking yet simplistic style (love the stick legs!), and strong characterisation. A touch of humour is added by the magpie with a stethoscope, and the sorrow of the other magpie is conveyed minimally with the alarm lines and the single tear.

Steve Simpson – The Monarch


Steve Simpson has done many illustrations of sugar skulls, and this is one of the best I’ve seen. The Monarch of the title refers to the butterfly on the forehead, and used elsewhere in the work too. I love all the detail, and how distinctive his style is. I also appreciated the fact that Day of the Dead is written not just in Mexican (Dia de les Muertos) but Irish too (Lá na Marbh).

Derry Dillon


Dillon’s picture of Italia ’90 (the legendary football final)  is very humorous. My favourite thing was all the little details in the work – there are so many different lucky symbols to find in the image, such as horoscopes, a horseshoe, a black cat, two magpies (for joy), Paul the Octopus, and even a bobblehead Jesus! It’s a lot of fun.

Check out all the illustrations from the exhibition here on The Copper House Gallery website. There are such an amazing variety of responses to the theme of superstition, as well as these pieces, I also loved the illustrations by P.J. Lynch, Tarsila Kruse, Steve Cannon, Poppy & Red, Margaret Anne Suggs and many more!