Kathleen Bridle
Biography of Irish Portrait Painter, Eniskillen Art Teacher.

Self Portrait (1948) Oil on board.
National Self Portrait Collection
of Ireland, Limerick University.

Kathleen Bridle ARUA (1897-1989)


Born in Kent, the daughter of an Irish coastguard officer, Bridle's peripatetic upbringing enabled her to nurture and develop a keen interest in drawing. Lodging with relatives in Dublin, she studied life and figure drawing at the Metropolitan School of Art. Here, she won two silver medals (for modelling and drawing), followed in her final year by the RDS Taylor Scholarship. This enabled her, in 1921, to travel to London in order to further her studies at the Royal College of Art, where she became friends with the sculptor Henry Moore (1898-1986), and duly won the George Clausen Prize for portrait art. During this period, she worked with oils, watercolour and enamels, on portraiture, landscape and other genres.

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Teaching Career

After a brief period working in the Harry Clarke stained glass studio in Dublin, she moved to Enniskillen County Fermanagh to begin teaching. At first, she held part-time posts in as many as five schools at once, frequently working evenings and Saturdays. Indeed, rather amazingly, it wasn't until 1955 (aged 58!) that she found full-time employment in a single school - the Collegiate School in Enniskillen - where she taught until her retirement, inspiring generations of young artists including William Scott and TP Flanagan.


During her career she exhibited in numerous shows both North and South. From 1921 to 1939 she showed 30 works at the Royal Hibernian Academy, while both the Oireachtas and the Irish Exhibition of Living Art (IELA) displayed her paintings. She also exhibited at the Ulster Academy of Arts (RUA), where she was elected an Associate in 1935. Solo shows took place at Magee's Gallery Belfast (1936), 55a Donegall Place Belfast (1947) and the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery (1950).

She travelled extensively in Europe throughout her life, to places like Norway (to study Edvard Munch), France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria. She toured Yugoslavia by bus in her 60s and saw New Zealand in her 70s. Elected a full Academician at the RUA in 1948, a major retrospective of her work was held at the Fermanagh County Museum in 1998, which later toured to the Ulster Museum and the Armagh County Museum. Mainly a watercolourist and landscape painter, she produced a number of portraits in oils, including the self-portrait pictured above which resides in the National Self-Portrait Collection of Ireland.


In many ways, Bridle exemplifies the parlous life of many Irish artists who grew up at the beginning of the 20th century. Although not exposed to the full rigours of self-employment, her isolation in a parochial environment far from any cultural centre of excellence, placed enormous constraints on her development as a painter. Her perseverance in the face of these adverse conditions, and her success as an artist and inspirational teacher, is in the finest traditions of Irish art.

More Information

• For more about figurative painting, see: Homepage.
• For more about art-teachers like Kathleen Bridle, see: Irish Art Guide.
• For a discussion about fine versus visual arts, see: Definition and Meaning of Art.

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