An Extensive Wooded Landscape
Co Wicklow, by the Dublin artist
John Henry Campbell
History of Irish Landscape Painting
The visual arts of Ireland has a rich heritage of landscape painting which stretches back into the 17th century. The seascapes of Tory Island off the rocky windswept coast of Donegal, the scenic pleasures of the Glens of Antrim, the Giants Causeway, the bogs of Connemara in Galway, the Atlantic cliffs and coastline of Kerry and Mayo, the traditional Celtic landscapes of the Aran Islands, Achill Island as well as the unusual contours and countryside of County Cork - each of these locations has, over the years, attracted its painters and artists. The media used is no less diverse, from oils and watercolours to pastels and enamel paints, gouache and acrylics.
The Watcher. By Belfast artist
Motivations have varied. Some painters sought to flatter their patrons with reassuring vistas of their estates; others produced idyllic views of valleys, riverscapes or waterfalls; yet more aimed to capture the authentic Celtic landscape and rural customs of the West of Ireland. In line with the ups and downs of Irish prosperity, at least in places like Dublin, Cork, Waterford and Belfast, landscape artists were employed to record views of the urban landscape by which to appreciate the growth and architectural detail of the city. The birth of the new Irish state lent further encouragement to Irish artists, who utilized the landscape of both town and country to promote the modern and Celtic image (respectively) of the new Ireland.
During the course of the 20th century, Irish landscape painting has maintained all these historical forms and motivations, albeit in a diverse variety of representational art styles, from the West of Ireland landscape of cliff, bog and turf, to the realist urban streetscape and suburban vista, and the photo-realist imagery of individual sites.
The Ha'penny Bridge, River Liffey,
Dublin. Urban Landscape by the
Waterford Artist Niccolo Caracciolo.
An outstanding example of
representational painting in Ireland.
Meanwhile, in parallel to this 'traditional' genre of Irish landscape, some Irish artists went abroad - particularly to France - where they joined other European landscape artists in schools at Barbizon, Pont-Aven and Concarneau, as well as St Ives in England, to paint in the Impressionist and Post Impressionist styles, to name but two. Thus the history and heritage of landscape painting in Ireland encompasses numerous forms, styles and motivations: far too many to accomodate within a single school of Irish art.
See also, the Most Expensive Irish Paintings - several of which belong to the Continental plein-air tradition.
The Ripe Field. By West Cork based
artist William Crozier.
The earliest landscapist of note may have been Susanna Drury (fl. 1733-70) who won one of the first prizes awarded by the Royal Dublin Society for her watercolour and gouache paintings of the Giant's Causeway. A contemporary, Joseph Tudor (d.1759), received a similar award for his engravings. Two European artists also flourished in mid-eighteenth century Ireland: the Dutchman Johann van der Hagen (fl.1720-45) who focused on coastal pictures of ports like Cobh in County Cork, and the Italian Gabrielle Ricciardelli (fl.1748-77) who was noted for his topographical landscapes of country estates. Meantime, Anthony Chearnley (fl.1740-85) from Tipperary was noted for his views of Cork and Waterford.
Two important Irish landscape artists of this time, were John Butts (c.1728-1764) and George Barret, Senior (1732-84). Although hardly known, the former was an important influence on the latter, who was a highly original artist (at least in his early works) noted for his evocative impasto paintings of Powerscourt, Waterfall and Dargle, together with mountainscapes of Wicklow.
While the English artist Francis Wheatley (1747-1801), noted for his exquisite rustic scenes (eg. Nymphs Bathing, a View of the Salmon Leap at Leixlip) was having an important impact on Irish topographical landscapists in the early 1780s, a group of native Irish artists was emerging.
These included the classical landscape painter George Mullins (fl.1763-75), the short-lived but polished Thomas Roberts (1749-78) and his more Romantic-style brother, Thomas Sautelle Roberts (c.1760-1826). The latter, a founder member of the Royal Hibernian Academy, was renowned for his dramatic rendering of rugged scenery and stormy weather. Other members of the group included Nathaniel Grogan the Elder (c.1740-1807) from Cork, and the master landscape painter William Ashford (1746-1824).
[Note: Three works by William Ashford were donated to the Irish Heritage Trust in January 2008 by a Cork businessman for display in Fota House, Cork. They featured views of the lakes of Killarney, a lake in Cavan and the village of Howth (c.1808). The donation also incorporated paintings by Thomas Roberts and Robert Carver, all of which are considered outstanding examples of idealised landscape painting in Ireland during the 18th century.]
As the home of the principal organizations and patrons of the arts, as well as the most important city of Ireland, Dublin and its urban landscape received a good deal of attention from its artists. The best topographical watercolour drawings of the city were produced in 1790 by the draughtsman printmaker James Malton (d.1803).
Influenced by the English School of landscape painting, the nineteenth century witnessed a gradual but definite change in Irish landscape art. Topographical-type pictures, produced to enable wealthy families to admire their grounds and estates, declined, as artists began to paint views of independent beauty or in ways that ignored any issue of ownership: a change exemplified in The Poachers, by James Arthur O'Connor (1792-1841), considered to be the 'father of modern Irish landscape painting'. Other like-minded artists of the period included William Sadler (1782-1839), the oil painter Henry O'Neill (1798-1880), George Petrie (1790-1866), and the important watercolourists John Henry Campbell (1757-1828), Andrew Nicholl (1804-86) and Francis Danby (1793-1861).
The Dublin Brocas family, comprising Henry
Brocas Senior (1762-1837) and his sons Samuel
Frederick Brocas (1792-1847) and Henry Brocas Junior (1798-1873),
were noted for their engravings, watercolours and oils, and especially
their views of Dublin. Their influence was considerable, not least because
between them they ran the Royal Dublin Society's school of landscape painting
during the first half of the century.
Meanwhile, in response to developments in French plein-air painting, another nineteenth century trend saw numerous Irish artists moving to France, to work in rural communes at Barbizon near Fontainebleu, or Pont-Aven and Concarneau in Brittany. Early examples included Nathaniel Hone the Younger (1831-1917), arguably the finest Irish landscape painter of his era, Augustus Nicholas Burke (1838-91), Aloysius O'Kelly (1853-c.1941) - who later travelled to Egypt producing several outstanding Orientalist pictures - the society painter Henry Jones Thaddeus (1859-1929) and the lyrical fin-de-siecle landscape artist Frank O'Meara (1853-88).
Later 'emigrants' to Brittany included the virtuoso Impressionist Roderic O'Conor (1861-1940), as well as the outstanding Walter Frederick Osborne (1859-1903), Joseph Malachy Kavanagh (1856-1918) and Dermod O'Brien (1865-1945), all three of whom studied with other Irish painters in Antwerp. Another later visitor to Brittany (St Malo) was the Dublin-born rural landscape artist Stanhope Forbes, later an important member of the influential Newlyn school of landscape painting, along with the outstanding Limerick artist Norman Garstin (1847-1926). See also Plein-Air Painting in Ireland.
The history of Irish art in the twentieth century shows that landscape painting was closely entwined with Irish nationalism and the search for an 'Irish' identity, although artists pursued these ideas in quite individual ways: Jack B Yeats (1871-1957) through his intense expressionist landscapes populated by unmistakably Irish figurative icons; Paul Henry (1876-1958) and James Humbert Craig (1878-1944) through their outstanding renderings of sky, sea, turf and light in their West of Ireland views. George 'AE' Russell (1867-1935) contributed several outstanding examples of the genre (eg. The Potato Gathers), while Letitia Hamilton (1878-1964) pursued a softer more Impressionist style.
Among other outstanding painters of the new century were the two Williams - William John Leech (1881-1968) and William Conor (1884-1968). Leech, an Impressionist of sorts, studied under Walter Osborne in Dublin before moving to the Continent and settling in the Breton village of Concarneau where he worked alongside Aloysius O'Kelly and John Lavery (1856-1941). William Conor, a later President of the Royal Ulster Academy, focused on urban landscapes and working class genre scenes of his native Belfast. Later noted landscape painting from Ulster featured the French-style rural scenes of Frank McKelvey (1895-1975), the quiet country scenes of County Antrim and County Down of the Belfast-Swiss painter Hans Iten (1874-1930), and the picturesque canvases of Tom Carr (1909-1999) and Maurice C Wilks (19101984).
Following the establishment of the Irish Free State in the early 1920s, some artists edged away from pure landscape in favour of a more figurative content. Sean Keating (1889-1977) produced a number of iconic oil paintings in this vein (eg. Men of Aran), being joined by the more straightforward Charles Lamb (1893-1964). Indeed, from this period onwards, Irish landscape painting appeared to fragment further. Modern abstract styles, 'authentic Irish imagery', and urban Irish realism all combined to confuse the genre. Noted landscape artists in the Republic of the 1940s - most of whom were also active in other genres - included Patrick Scott (b.1921), Norah McGuinness (1903-1980), Gerard Dillon (1916-71) and Patrick Collins (1910-1994). Among the more traditional landscape painters were George Campbell (1917-1979) and Patrick Hennessy (1915-1980). Another noted contributor to urban landscapes of the time was Harry Kernoff (1900-1974).
Outside mainstream developments, the emergence and growth of Tory Island landscape painting in Donegal during the 1950s was largely due to the efforts of the Englishman Derek Hill (1916-2000) and the primitive Tory Island painter James Dixon (1887-1970), whose artistic talent only became apparent when he took up painting at the age of 72!
In Northern Ireland, as in the Republic, 20th Century landscape art encompassed several differing styles, incorporating both traditional and contemporary/abstract features. The genre was exemplified by artists like Colin Middleton (1910-1983), Dan O'Neill (1920-74), Terence P Flanagan (b.1929), Arthur Armstrong (1924-1996) and Basil Blackshaw (b.1932).
Two relative latecomers to Irish art of the 1950s included the St Ives abstract landscape artist Tony O'Malley (1913-2003), and Camille Souter (b.1929), noted for her Achill Island and Wicklow landscapes, and the use of aluminium and enamel paints. Meanwhile, in 1957, Kenneth Webb (b.1927) the Head of Painting at the Ulster College of Art, Belfast (1953-60) founded the Irish School of Landscape Painting.
Among other notable Irish landscape artists of the second half of the 20th century, are the painter/printmaker Patrick Hickey (b.1927), the expressionists William Crozier, (b.1930), Barrie Cooke (b.1931) and Brian Bourke (b.1936), and the post-Impressionist Arthur Maderson (b.1942). The more traditional style has been maintained by artists like the Armagh-born Cecil Maguire (b.1930) and Martin Gale (b.1949), while the classical style of landscape painting was exemplified by the Waterford and Florentine artist Niccolo D'Ardia Caracciolo (1941-1989), and later by Martin Mooney (b.1960), as well as the Impressionists Norman Teeling (b.1944) and John Morris (b.1958), and the Realist/pre-Impressionist Paul Kelly (b.1968) and Henry McGrane (b.1969). A slightly different form of classicism is evident in the city landscapes of Stephen McKenna which also hint at larger narrative themes.
Ballard (b.1943) continues to demonstrate his mastery of light and
shadow, the works of Hughie
O'Donoghue include awesome echoes of William Turner, John
Shinnors (b.1950) pursues a less colorist line in contrast with the
bright surrealist canvases of TJ
Miles (b.1965) and John Luke
(1906-1975). Ian Humphreys (b.1956) demonstrates a mastery of the sea
shoreline, while Donald Teskey
(b.1956) creates powerful snapshots of Irish scenery and Colin
Davidson (b.1968) entrances with his Belfast streetscapes.
More About Irish Art