ARTISTS IN IRELAND
Sarah Cecilia Harrison (1863-1941)
Born in County Down, to a prosperous family, she moved with her family to London in 1873 on the death of her father. From 1878 to 1885, she studied at the Slade School of Fine Art under Alphonse Legros - his focus on realism and precise draughtsmanship was to have a profound and long-lasting effect on her work. To further her training, she studied Old Master paintings in London and on the Continent. Four years later, in 1889, she settled in Dublin to begin a career in portrait art, submitting for the first time to the annual exhibition of the Royal Hibernian Academy.
Thereafter, until 1933, she was a regular contributor to the RHA, submitting a total of 60 paintings, mostly portraits. She also showed at the Royal Academy in London. In 1890, she spent time in France where she completed a number of plein-air studies of children and landscapes in Etaples and Brittany. A great admirer of John Butler Yeats, WB Yeats' father, Cecilia Harrison herself gradually became known as one of the foremost portrait artists in Ireland.
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First Woman to Serve on Dublin City Council
In addition to her painting practice, the beautiful six-feet two-inch green-eyed Harrison was actively involved in politics - her brother Henry, a strong supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell, was MP for Tipperary - and a forceful advocate of social reform in Dublin. In 1912, she was elected the first female city councillor of Dublin Corporation, a post she retained until 1915.
Relationship with Sir Hugh Percy Lane
Since the early 1900s, she had also become involved in the campaign of Hugh Lane (1875-1915) to establish a permanent gallery of modern art in Dublin. After Lane's tragic death on the SS Lusitania in 1915, Celia Harrison stated that they had been engaged to be married and that Lane had intended to make it public following his return from America.
Be that as it may, her portrait of Hugh Lane, painted in 1914 on wood with tight brush strokes and an enamel-like appearance, is one of her best works. Harrison continued painting for over 25 years, exhibiting regularly in Dublin and in Belfast, where she was appointed an Honorary Academician of the Royal Ulster Academy of Fine Arts. She never married.
As an artist, she was a consummate realist with a deep respect for exact draughtsmanship and precise brushwork. There are two self-portraits in the Hugh Lane Gallery, including a delightful early study in oils; another of her as a young woman, in the National Gallery of Ireland; and a 1920 study of herself in red conte chalk on paper, in the National Self-Portrait Collection of Ireland at Limerick University. Further examples of her works are in all three galleries, OPW, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery Edinburgh and the Ulster Museum Belfast, to name but a few collections.
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