Sunday, March 28, 2010

(Social) Realism: Ireland

Daniel MacDonald (1821-53) One of the few Irish painters to focus attention on the Great Famine in Ireland during the late 1840s, Daniel MacDonald (originally McDaniel) was born in Cork, the son of the caricaturist and draughtsman James McDaniel (c.1789-1840). Taught drawing at an early age by his father, MacDonald soon demonstrated his sketching skills, becoming noted for his pen and ink drawings including both portraiture and caricatures of local figures. When still only a young teenager, he had two etchings published in The Tribute, a Cork literary publication. In his early 20s, he began exhibiting at the Royal Hibernian Academy (1842-44), before leaving for London shortly after. Meanwhile the Famine (1846-51) had broken out in Ireland, during which MacDonald returned to paint one of the few pictures showing an actual scene from the famine. This genre painting, 'The Irish Peasant Family Discovering the Blight of Their Store' was exhibited at the British Institution in 1847. Neither MacDonald's role in publicizing the tragedy - nor that of his fellow Cork artist James Mahoney (1810-79) - has ever been fully recognized.

The Irish Peasant Family Discovering the Blight of Their Store

Aloysius O'Kelly (1853 – c.1941)

Aloysius O'Kelly (3 July 1853 in Dublin – c.1941) was an Irish painter. O'Kelly traveled to Paris in order to enroll at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1874, where he studied under Bonnat and Gérôme. He traveled to Brittany in 1876 painting its aesthetic coastlines, fishing ports and villages. In October 1881, Charles Stewart Parnell, a member of Parliament and leader of the Irish Party, was arrested and imprisoned in Kilmainham. Two days following his arrest, Aloysius' brother, James J. O'Kelly, along with some other Party members, including John Dillon, were imprisoned where they remained until May 1882. A number of Aloysius' drawings during this period portrayed the political situation dealing with his brother's incarceration. O'Kelly lived in Concarneau, Connemara and eventually America, painting rural scenes in the prior and city life in New York City.

Henry Thaddeus
Jones (1859 – 1929)
Born Henry Thaddeus Jones, he entered the Cork School of Art when he was only ten years old. There he would study under the genre painter James Brenan.
Thaddeus won the Taylor Prize in 1878 enabling him to go to London, and then again in 1879 enabling him to continue his studies in Paris at the Academie Julian. His first major painting was hung "on the line" (at eye-level) at the Paris Salon of 1881, a major compliment.
While possibly not strictly impressionist (his work tending to adhere to the darker palette of Courbet, and the Realists), much of his work is evocative of the artistic centres of Northern France of the period.

Henry Thaddeus Jones Eviction Scene (1889)


John "Jack" Butler Yeats (1871 – 1957)
John "Jack" Butler Yeats (29 August 1871 – 28 March 1957) was an Irish artist. His early style was that of an illustrator; he only began to work regularly in oils in 1906.[1] His early pictures are simple lyrical depictions of landscapes and figures, predominantly from the west of Ireland—especially of his boyhood home of Sligo. His brother is William Butler Yeats. Yeats' works contain elements of Romanticism, and are grounded in fine observation and brilliant draughtsmanship.

John "Jack" Butler Yeats Liffey Swim

John "Jack" Butler Yeats The Small Ring

Paul Henry (1877 – 1958)
Paul Henry (11 April 1877 – 24 August 1958) was a Northern Irish artist who painted the west of Ireland landscape with a spare post-impressionist style. Paul Henry was born in Belfast, Ireland, the son of a Baptist minister. He studied art in Belfast before going to Paris in 1898 to study at the Académie Julian and at Whistler's studio. He married the painter Grace Henry in 1903 and returned to Ireland in 1910. From then, until 1919, he lived on Achill Island and learned to capture the peculiar interplay of light and landscape specific to the West of Ireland. In 1919 he moved to Dublin and in 1920 was one of the founders of the Society of Dublin Painters. He separated from his wife in 1929.

William Orpen (1878 – 1931)
Major Sir William Newenham Montague Orpen, KBE, RA, RHA (27 November 1878 – 29 September 1931) was an Irish portrait painter. He studied art at the Metropolitan School and at the Slade School in London where, at the time, great emphasis was put on the study of old masters. Orpen was a highly sought after society portraitist in his day.[1]

William Conor (1881 – 1968)
William Conor (1881 – 1968) was a Belfast, Northern Ireland born artist. Celebrated for his warm and sympathetic portrayals of working-class life in Ulster, William Conor studied at the Government School of Design in Belfast in the 1890s.

Seán Keating (1889 – 1977)
Seán Keating (Born John Keating, Limerick, 28 September 1889 – Dublin, 21 December 1977) was an Irish romantic-realist painter who painted some iconic images of the Anglo-Irish War and of the early industrialization of Ireland. He spent part of each year on the Aran Islands and his many portraits of island people depicted them as rugged heroic figures.

Seán Keating Men of the South 1921

Seán Keating An Allegory 1922

Seán Keating Economic Pressure

Lilian Lucy Davidson ARHA, WCSI (1893-1954)
The landscape, portrait and genre painter Lilian Davidson was born in Bray, County Wicklow.
She studied at the National College of Art & Design, and began exhibiting with the Water Colour Society of Ireland when she was 19. From then until a year before her death she never missed an exhibition.

Charles Lamb RHA (1893-1964)
The Irish landscape artist, portrait and figure painter Charles Lamb was born in County Armagh. He studied painting and life-drawing at night classes at Belfast School of Art, before winning a scholarship to the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin in 1917 where he came under the influence of Sean Keating. He began exhibiting at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1919, and thereafter averaged about 4 paintings per show until his final years. The following year he painted his masterpiece "Dancing At A Northern Crossroads".

Maurice MacGonigal PRHA (1900-1979)
The landscape and portrait artist Maurice MacGonigal was born in Dublin, becoming a design apprentice in his Uncle's firm which designed and produced stained glass. MacGonigal's cousin, the artist Harry Clarke (who married the painter Margaret Crilley) gave him much encouragement. MacGonigal mixed politics with art studies, managing within a few years to be interned at Ballykinlar Camp, take drawing and figure drawing classes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art (now the National College of Art and Design) and win the Taylor Scholarship in painting. He also won the Tailteann silver medal for landscape. After a visit to Holland in 1927, where he studied fine art painting at the Hague, he returned to Dublin where he taught in the Royal Hiberian Academy Art Schools and also at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art becoming a very influential teacher and eventually Professor of Painting.

Harry Aaron Kernoff RHA (1900-1974)
The portrait, landscape and decorative painter Harry Kernoff was born in London to a Russian father and Spanish mother, but relocated to Dublin when he was 14. Kernoff studied drawing and painting during night classes at the Metropolitan School of Art. In 1923, he won the Taylor Scholarship and became a full-time art student. During his studies he met and was encouraged by fellow artists Patrick Tuohy, Sean Keating and Maurice MacGonigal.

Portrait of James Connolly

George Collie (1904 - 1975)
George Collie was born in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan, and was educated at St Kevin's Metropolitan School, Blackpitts, Dublin, the Royal Hibernian Academy and the Metropolitan School of Art. In 1927 he won the Taylor Art Scholarship, which allowed him to travel. He studied art in Paris at both the Academie Colorossie and the Grande Chaumerie, and in London at the Royal College of Arts. When he returned to Dublin, where he opened his own studio and school in Schoolhouse Lane, he taught in the National College of Art. He gained a reputation as a portrait painter, and President de Valera and Cardinal D'Alton were among his subjects. In the parish church, Bailieborough, County Cavan, he painted the Stations of the Cross.

Daniel O'Neill (1920 – 1974)
Daniel (Dan) O'Neill (1920 – March 9, 1974) was a Romantic painter born in Belfast, Ireland. The son of an electrician, and himself an electrician by trade, he was largely self-taught, although he briefly attended Belfast College of Art life classes, before working with and studying under fellow Belfast artist Sidney Smith. He quickly developed an expressionist technique, and strong romanticism, with imagery, often full of pathos, evoking the themes of love, life and death.

J.B. Vallely (1941)
J.B. Vallely, a painter and musician, was born in 1941 into a Co. Armagh family which had a strong cultural involvement in sport and language. At the age of seventeen he sold his first painting in 1958. He then went on to study at the Belfast College of Art from 1959 where he was taught by Tom Carr and later at the Edinburgh Art College. His earliest achievement saw eight of his works purchased for the Irish display at the 1963 World Fair in New York.

Robert Ballagh (1943)
Robert Ballagh (born 22 September 1943) is an Irish artist. He was born in Dublin and graduated from the Dublin Institute of Technology. He is both a painter and designer. His painting style was strongly influenced by pop art and his paintings are often playful and didactic. He is a member of Aosdána.

World (Social) Realist Art (Index of Countries)
This blog page is part of an ongoing project by artist and part-time lecturer Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin ( to explore Realist / Social Realist art from around the world. The term Realism is used in its broadest sense to include 19th century Realism and Naturalism as well as 20th century Impressionism (which after all was following in the path of Courbet and Millet). Social Realism covers art that seeks to examine the living and working conditions of ordinary people (examples include German Expressionism, American Ashcan School and the Mexican Muralists).

Click here for (Social) Realist Art Definitions, World (Social) Realism and Global Solidarity, Art and Politics, Social Realism in history and Country Index.

Suggestions for appropriate artists from around the world welcome to

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