Birth of Modernism in Irish art

The Dancer and the Bubble (1947) by John Luke (1906-1975).

The Birth of Modernism in Irish Art 1920-1960 is the title of an exhibition running at the State Apartment Galleries in Dublin Castle until August 18.

Curator David Britton notes it took time before the influence of early 20th-century advances in art reached these shores.

With the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922, the culturally conservative government and middle-class Catholics favoured art depicting West of Ireland cottages (Paul Henry), Irish agricultural workers (Sean Keating) or people at leisure, as shown by William Conor or James Humbert Craig.

The main exponents of Surrealism were Colin Middleton and Nevill Johnson.

Mainie Jellett and Evie Hone were the first to promote pure Cubism in Ireland, but other Irish artists like May Guinness and Mary Swanzy studied in Paris before Jellett and Hone’s arrival there.

When Jellett first showed pure abstract work in 1923 there was a hostile review by the artist/poet George Russell.

In 1943 Jellett was instrumental with others in organising the first Irish Exhibition of Living Art.


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