MODERN IRISH ART
By D.J. O’DONOGHUE,
Librarian, University College, Dublin.
It would be difficult to dispute, in view of her innumerable and excellent artists, that there has always been in modern times an art consciousness in Ireland, but it is impossible to assert that there has been any artistic unity in her people. She has produced no school, but merely a great number of brilliant painters, sculptors, and engravers, chiefly for export. With all our acknowledged artistic capacity, we have not, except in one notable instance, produced a cumulative art effect. The history of Irish art is almost uniformly a depressing narrative. During a comparatively brief period in the eighteenth century–significantly enough, it was while the country enjoyed a short spell of national life–there was something like a national patronage of the artist, and the result is visible in the noble public buildings and beautiful houses of the Irish capital, with their universally admired mantelpieces, doors, ceilings, fanlights, ironwork, and carvings. In short, while Ireland had even a partly unfettered control of her own concerns, the arts were generously encouraged by her government and by the wealthy individual. When other European capitals were mere congeries of rookeries, Dublin, the centre of Irish political life, possessed splendid streets, grandly planned. But there was little solidarity among the artistic fraternity. Various associations of artists were formed, which held together fairly well until the flight of the resident town gentry after the Union, and many admirable artists were trained in the schools of the Royal Dublin Society, but, since the opening of the nineteenth century, there has been almost no visible art effort in Dublin. True, there have been many fine artists, who have made a struggle to fix themselves in Dublin, but, as with the Royal Hibernian Academy, of which the best of them were members, the struggle has been a painful agony. Usually the artist migrated to London to join the large group of Irishmen working there; a few others went to America and obtained an honored place in her art annals. Those who went to England secured in many cases the highest rewards of the profession. Several, like Barry, Hone, Barrett, and Cotes, were founders or early members of the Royal Academy; one, Sir Martin Shee, became its President. Nevertheless, many distinguished artists remained in Dublin, where the arts of portrait-painting and engraving were carried to a high pitch of excellence.
This record must necessarily be of a chronological character, and can only take note of those whose works have actual value and interest, historical or other. Edward Luttrell (1650-1710) did some excellent work in crayon or pastel, while Garrett Murphy (fl. 1650-1716), Stephen Slaughter (d. 1765), Francis Bindon (d. 1765), and James Latham (1696-1747), have each left us notable portraits of the great Irish personages of their day. To fellow countrymen in London, Charles Jervas (1675?-1739), Thomas Hickey (d. 1816?), and Francis Cotes, R.A. (1725-1770), we owe presentments of other famous people. George Barrett, R.A. (1728-1784), one of the greatest landscapists of his time; Nathaniel Hone, R.A. (1718-1784), an eccentric but gifted painter, with an individuality displayed in all his portraits; James Barry, R.A. (1741-1806), still more eccentric, with grand conceptions imperfectly carried out in his great historical and allegorical pictures:–these, with Henry Tresham, R.A. (1749?-1814), and Matthew Peters, R.A. (1742-1814), historical painters of considerable merit, upheld the Irish claim to a high place in English eighteenth century art. A little later, miniaturists such as Horace Hone, A.R.A. (1756-1825), George Chinnery (1774-1852), and Adam Buck (1759-1844), also worked with remarkable success in London. Among resident Irish artists, the highest praise can be given to the miniature painters, John Comerford (1770?-1832) and Charles Robertson (1760-1821), and to the portrait-painters, Robert Hunter (fl. 1750-1803) and (especially) Hugh Douglas Hamilton (1739-1808), of whose work Ireland possesses many distinguished examples. Some day Hamilton’s pictures will appeal to a far wider public than his countrymen can provide. One must omit the names of many clever Irish artists like the Wests, Francis and Robert, who were the most successful teachers of perhaps any time in Ireland, and come at once to that branch of art in which Ireland stands second to none–mezzotint-engraving.
One of the earliest engravers in this style was Edward Luttrell, already named as a painter, but it was John Brooks (fl. 1730-1756) who is justly considered the real founder of that remarkable group of Irish engravers whose work may be more correctly described as belonging to a school than any other of the period. For many years in Dublin, and afterwards in London, a succession of first-rate artists of Irish birth produced work which remains and always must remain one of the glories of Ireland. Limits of space allow only the bare mention of the names of James McArdell (1728?-1765), Charles Spooner (d. 1767), Thomas Beard (fl. 1728), Thomas Frye (1710-1762), Edward Fisher (1722-1785?), Michael Ford (d. 1765), John Dixon (1740?-1811), Richard Purcell (fl. 1746-1766), Richard Houston (1721?-1775), John Murphy (1748?-1820), Thomas Burke (1749-1815), Charles Exshaw (fl. 1747-1771), and Luke Sullivan (1705-1771)–artists of whom any country might be proud, and whose works have in most cases outlasted the remembrance of the persons whose likenesses they sought to reproduce. Separate monographs might be justifiably written on most of the gifted artists here enumerated, and one can only regret not being able in short space to compare and estimate their various qualities. Thomas Chambers, A.R.A. (1724?-1784), William Nelson Gardiner (1766-1814), James Egan (1799-1842), and William Humphreys (1794-1865) are other Irish engravers who cannot be overlooked in a survey of the art of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Contemporaneously with the remarkable development of the art of engraving arose a group of Irish architects. Rather earlier in point of time was Sir Edward Lovat Pearce (d. 1733), who was one of the chief architects of the Irish Parliament House, and Thomas Burgh (d. 1730), to whom we owe the Library of Trinity College, Dublin; but Thomas Cooley (1740-1784), designer of the handsome Royal Exchange of that city; Richard Castle (d. 1751), a foreigner who settled in Ireland and built a number of beautiful Irish residences; Francis Johnston (1761-1829), an excellent architect whose chief claim to remembrance, however, is as founder of the Royal Hibernian Academy; and, above all, James Gandon (1743-1823), whose superb Custom House, Four Courts, and part of the Irish Parliament House will perpetuate his name in Dublin while that city lasts–each helped to make the capital, even in its decay, one of the most interesting in Europe. Nor should we forget Thomas Ivory (d. 1786), whose Foundling Hospital is another of Dublin’s many graceful edifices; nor Sir Richard Morrison (1767-1849) and his son William (1794-1838), much of whose work remains to testify to their skill and ingenuity.
Ecclesiastical architecture in Ireland is indebted to Patrick Byrne (fl. 1840), James J. McCarthy (d. 1882), J.B. Keane (d. 1859), and James Murray (1831-1863), for many well designed churches and chapels throughout Ireland; but the great names in modern Irish architecture are those of Benjamin Woodward (1815-1861), whose premature death was a serious loss to Irish art; Sir Thomas Deane (1792-1871); and his son, Sir Thomas Newenham Deane (1828-1899). The elder Deane was, with Woodward, the architect of the Oxford Museum and of the splendid Engineering Hall of Trinity College, Dublin, buildings which have elicited enthusiastic praise from John Ruskin and other eminent critics. Deserving of respectful mention, too, to come down to our own days, are Sir Thomas Drew (1838-1910) and William H. Lynn, who is still living.
In sculpture, again, Ireland has done memorable work. In the eighteenth century she gave us admirable craftsmen like Edward Smyth (1749-1812), John Hickey (1756-1795), and Christopher Hewitson (fl. 1772-1794), whose dignified monument of Bishop Baldwin is one of the most distinguished pieces of sculpture in Trinity College, Dublin. But it was not till the appearance of a later group of sculptors, including John Hogan (1800-1858), John Edward Carew (1785-1868), John Henry Foley, R.A. (1818-1874), and Patrick MacDowell, R.A. (1799-1870), that Irish sculpture obtained more than local renown. Fortunately, most of the best work of Hogan and Foley remains in Ireland; that of Carew and MacDowell is chiefly to be found in the Houses of Parliament and other institutions in London. The incomparable “Goldsmith,” “Burke,” “Grattan,” and other statues by Foley, together with an almost complete collection of casts of his other works, are in his native country. Hogan is represented in Dublin by his “Thomas Davis” and his “Dead Christ,” to name but two of his principal works. The names at least of James Heffernan (1785-1847), of John Edward Jones (1806-1872), of Terence Farrell (1798-1876), of Samuel F. Lynn (1834-1876), and perhaps of Christopher Moore (1790-1863), an excellent sculptor of busts, may be set down here. Sir Thomas Farrell (1827-1900) and the living sculptors, John Hughes, Oliver Sheppard, and Albert Bruce Joy, are responsible for some of the more admirable of the public monuments of Dublin. It is much to be deplored that of the work of one of the greatest of Dublin-born artists, Augustus Saint Gaudens, we have only one example–the statue of Parnell. Ireland may surely claim him as one of her most gifted sons. And perhaps a word might be said in this place of some of the other Irishmen who made their home in America: of Hoban the architect who designed the White House at Washington, modelling it after Leinster House in Dublin; of painters like Charles Ingham, W.G. Wall, William Magrath, the Morans, James Hamilton, and Thomas Hovenden; and of sculptors like John Donoghue, John Flanagan, Andrew O’Connor, John F. Kelly, Jerome Connor, John J. Boyle, and Martin Milmore. But they belong rather to the history of American art than to that of Ireland.
Before leaving the subject of Irish sculpture, the work of the medallists, an allied branch of the art in which Irishmen did much valued work, should not be overlooked. The medals of William Mossop (1751-1805), of his son, William Stephen Mossop (1788-1827), and of John Woodhouse (1835-1892), to mention only three of its chief representatives in Ireland, are greatly prized by collectors.
Most modern Irish art of high importance has been largely produced out of Ireland, which has been perforce abandoned by those artists who have learned how little encouragement is to be met with at home. One can blame neither the artist nor the Irish public for this unfortunate result; there is sufficient reason in the political and economic condition of Ireland since the Union to explain the fact. But for this cause men like Daniel Maclise, R.A. (1806-1870), William Mulready, R.A. (1786-1863), Francis Danby, A.R.A. (1793-1861), and Alfred Elmore, R.A. (1815-1881), might have endeavored to emulate the spirit of James O’Connor (1792-1841), the landscapist, Richard Rothwell (1800-1868), a charming subject painter, and Sir Frederic W. Burton (1816-1900), one of the most distinguished artists of his time, who at least spent some of their active working career in their native land. The same words apply to artists who succeeded in other branches of the profession, men like John Doyle (1797-1868), a caricaturist with all the power, without the coarseness, of his predecessors; his son, Richard Doyle (1824-1883), a refined and delicate artist; John Leech (1817-1864), the humorist, a member of an Irish Catholic family; Paul Gray (1842-1866), who died before his powers had fully matured; and Matthew James Lawless (1837-1864), who also died too early. William Collins, R.A. (1788-1847) and Clarkson Stanfield, R.A. (1793-1867), both eminent representatives of English art, though of Irish extraction, more properly belong to England than to Ireland.
Not discouraged by the melancholy history of many gifted Irish artists, Ireland still produces men who are not unworthy of association with the best who have gone before. Our most recent losses have been heavy–notably those of Walter F. Osborne (1859-1903) and Patrick Vincent Duffy (1832-1909), but we still have artists of genius in the persons of Nathaniel Hone, a direct descendant of his famous namesake; John Butler Yeats; John Lavery, A.R.A.; and William Orpen, A.R.A. Many other names might be given, but already this attempt at a survey suffers by its enumeration of artists, who, however, could hardly be neglected in such a record.
Crowded as the list may be, it is a careful selection, and it demonstrates that, notwithstanding all the disadvantages under which Ireland suffers, the country has an almost unlimited capacity for fine achievement, and that, with prosperity and contentment, she may be expected to rival the most illustrious of art centres. It is only within living memory that any attempt has been made to direct the known artistic skill of the Irish people to industrial effort. But the remarkable success achieved in the modern designs for Irish lace in the English art competitions is an instance of what might be done generally in the applied arts. Though they are in their infancy, the new carpet and stained glass industries in Ireland also hold out considerable hope for the future. But one can only barely indicate what has been and might be done in the furtherance of Irish art. If we only had under one roof a judiciously made collection of all the best work done by Irish artists of all styles and periods, it would more eloquently justify our claim than endless columns of praise.
Anthony Pasquin [John Williams]: History of Professors of Painting in Ireland (1795); T.J. Mulvany: Life of James Gandon; John O’Keeffe: Reminiscences, vol. I; Taft: American Sculpture; W.G. Strickland: Dictionary of Irish Artists (2 vols., 1913).