Patrick Tuohy
Biography of Irish Portrait Painter, "Portrait of James Joyce".

Portrait of James Joyce.

See: Irish Painting.
Also: Irish Art Questions.

Patrick Tuohy RHA (1894-1930)

Born in Dublin, the son of a respected surgeon, he grew up in an environment steeped in Irish Nationalism - his parents were both committed nationalists - and at the age of fourteen entered Padraig Pearse’s school, St Enda’s, in Rathfarnham, County Dublin. In spite of being born without a left hand, he possessed a natural flair for drawing, producing portraits in profile, pen and ink still lifes and landscape paintings of scenes from his uncle's farm in Wicklow. His talents were quickly recognised by his art teacher, the sculptor William Pearse (Padraig’s younger brother), who encouraged Tuohy to take night classes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. Soon afterwards, James Ward, St Enda's Headmaster, as well as the sculptor Albert Power, persuaded Tuohy's father that his son should attend the School of Art on a full time basis. Tuohy duly enrolled for five years, learning life drawing and drawing from the nude under Sir William Orpen, becoming one of the latter's favourite students.

Under Orpen's influence Tuohy learned quickly, developing a thorough understanding of human anatomy, and established a reputation as one of the most talented Irish portrait artists. He won the Taylor Art Scholarship at the Royal Dublin Society in 1912, and again in 1914 and 1915: a feat never repeated. He also won a silver medal from the South Kensington School of Art for his painting from life. In 1913, he received his first commission, for ten ceiling panels for the Jesuit Order at Rathfarnham Castle. This, together with his other scholarship prize money, gave him enough money to travel to Madrid. He remained there for a year, teaching at the local Loreto convent and visiting the Prado, where he studied the great seventeenth-century Spanish painters Diego Velazquez (1599-1660) and Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664).

Returning to Ireland, he began showing at the Royal Hibernian Academy from 1918, the Oireachtas from 1920, and in addition, began teaching at the Metropolitan School of Art. Two of his best early works were "Standing Female Nude" and "Self-Portrait with Two Women", which according to Theo Snoddy (Dictionary of Irish Artists: 20th Century) were described by Dr Rosemarie Mulcahy as "among the finest paintings produced in Ireland in the first half of this century." Tuohy also completed a large number of portraits (inc. political figures, religious leaders, painters Sean O'Sullivan and Sean Keating, and his fiancee Phyllis Moss), as well as religious works - ambitious and notably unsentimental - including the large-scale canvas "The Baptism of Christ", which he exhited at the Royal Academy. His set of pencil drawings of famous figures in the Irish theatre, completed between 1922 and 1926, demonstrate his superb ability as a draughtsman. In recognition of his growing status as one of the most important portrait painters in the country, he was elected an Associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1924 and a full Academician in 1925.


During 1923 and 1924 he made a number of trips to Italy and France, and in 1924 painted the portrait of James Joyce in Paris (now in the State University of New York, Buffalo). The writer sat for Tuohy nearly every day for a month, and after twenty-eight sittings relations between sitter and artist were strained: Joyce later included Tuohy in "Finnegans Wake" referring to him as "Ratatuohy". Despite his exceptional talents, the dapper Tuohy with his clipped moustache was not always easy company. Often moody, he nursed a sense of perfectionism which often led to disappointment. As well as this, and despite both his Nationalist upbringing and the heady enthusiasm of his artistic contemporaries for the country's newly won independence, his horizons were much wider and he was drawn much more to European art than the Irish equivalent.

In 1927, having become disillusioned with his career prospects in Ireland, Tuohy emigrated to the United States, staying first in South Carolina before settling in New York. In 1929 he showed a number of portraits in New York which received high praise from critics who judged them better than anything being produced in America. In August of the following year, Tuohy was found asphyxiated from gas-poisoning in his art studio. His natural despondancy led most people to assume he had taken his own life, a view adamantly rejected by members of his family who claim it was accidental. Whatever the manner of his leaving, Tuohy is best remembered for his wonderful portrait art, notably his unique ability to produce a true likeness of his subjects along with a deeply sympathetic illumination of their personality. Examples of his works can be seen in the Crawford Municipal Gallery, Cork; the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin; the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin; University College Dublin; National Self Portrait Collection, University of Limerick; and numerous other museums around the world.

More Information

• For details of other creative practitioners from Ireland, see: Irish Artists: Painters and Sculptors.
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• For more about portraitists like Patrick Tuohy, see: Irish Art Guide.
• For details of the development of art in Ireland, see: History of Irish Art.

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