Irish Art History: The Anniversary of the 1916 Risings

In January when Dave and I were in Dublin we visited the National Gallery of Ireland to see the 'January Turners.' While we were visiting the gallery, Dave and I stumbled upon another exhibition, Creating History: Stories of Ireland in Art. This exhibition featured paintings inspired by Ireland's past. While many of the works were historical pieces, others were romantic mythologies, or even political pieces. 

 Dave reading about the art history of Ireland

Dave reading about the art history of Ireland

The exhibition was arranged thematically, bringing art together that had been produced in different periods, from sometimes opposing perspectives and in completely different styles. The paintings ranged from the 17th century to the early years of the Irish Free State. The categories: Testimony, Conflict, Assembly, Allegory, Lamentation, were created to draw out the connections between the works of art.

Many of the artists in this exhibition were not even Irish, however, recognized the drama in Ireland's remarkable history. While Dave and I walked around the exhibition I realized how little I knew about Irish history and found it fascinating to learn about it through visual representations and storytelling through art. My favourite works were by an Irish artist I had never heard of, Sean Keating, an Irish romantic-realist painter who painted some iconic images of the Irish War of Independence and of the early industrialization of Ireland.  

 Sean Keating,  On the Run - War of Independence,  c. 1924, Oil on canvas, Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

Sean Keating, On the Run - War of Independence, c. 1924, Oil on canvas, Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

Keating addressed the War of Independence and the Civil War in several paintings. This painting shows three young men resting in a rural yard: one cleans his revolver, another reads a paper and the third seems to be daydreaming. The setting is one that gives us an insight into these three men, who are in hiding, with no real shelter but a shed that is falling apart in the background behind them. There are various domestic items suggesting the kindness of the people who are hiding them. Members of the IRA relied heavily on a network of safe houses across the country: places they could rest and be concealed from the authorities, if need be. 

 Sean Keating,  An Allegory , 1924, Oil on canvas, National Gallery of Ireland

Sean Keating, An Allegory, 1924, Oil on canvas, National Gallery of Ireland

This painting is a powerful statement on society, class, and the implications of the Civil War. In the background, a ruined country house stands as a reminder of Ireland's Ascendency past, but also points to the fate of many of the houses during the period of 1920-1923. During the War of Independence and Civil War, nearly 300 properties were burned across the 26 counties of Ireland. The figures gathered around the tree represent the heirs to Independence: a cleric, a businessman, a poor family, opposing combatants. The family unit is a portrait of the artist and his wife, and they represent the ordinary citizen, tired and demoralized by the conflict. The soldiers, represent both sides of the war, dig a grave for a coffin that is draped in the Irish flag