Albert Power
Biography of Irish Academic Realist Sculptor, Gaelic Tradition.

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Michael Collins (Bronze Bust)

HISTORY OF SCULPTURE
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and evolution of 3-D art,
see: Sculpture History.

WORLD'S BEST SCULPTORS
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stone/wood carvers and bronze
artists, see: Greatest Sculptors.

Albert Power (1881-1945)

One of the great practitioners of Irish sculpture in the academic realist style, Albert Power became the leading sculptor in Ireland during the late 1920s and 1930s, being noted for his Gaelic sympathies and his use of Irish materials. As the concept of 'Irish art' began to widen from the 1940s onward, Power's works - both in their naturalistic style, and their commemorative content - began to look outmoded, and his reputation suffered.

Born in Dublin, Power showed an early interest in sculpture, spending much of his childhood playing in local clay brickyards where he made crude portrait busts of his friends. He entered the stone carving profession as a young apprentice to the Smyth family - descended from the 18th century sculptor Edward Smyth - where he absorbed the basic techniques of lettering and simple sculpture. Then, at 13, he began evening classes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art (now the National College of Art & Design), where he picked up important figure-drawing and other fine art skills from William Orpen, and the sculptors John Hughes (1865-1941) and Oliver Sheppard (1865-1941). An excellent pupil, Power won numerous awards, gradually gaining sufficient confidence and expertise to leave Smyths and take up a part-time teaching post at the school, while he applied himself to his sculpture.


Detail of Pádhraig Ó Conaire (1935)
While in Eyre Square


Pádhraig Ó Conaire (1935)
Galway Museum

MODERN SCULPTURE
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Quite apart from acquiring a range of modelling, casting and anatomical skills crucial for any sculptor, Power's association with the Dublin art school gave him several other important benefits. First, he built up a network of contacts through the likes of Orpen and Sheppard. Second, he absorbed the ethos of the new 'Irish art' movement, not only through the school's involvement with the Celtic Revival, but also through the wider mood of nationalism then prevalent. His style was doggedly realist in the academic tradition. Paradoxically, his close identification with visual arts in Ireland, restrained his wider ambitions in the world of fine art sculpture, much to the regret of his teacher Orpen.

From 1906, the 25 year old Albert Power began exhibiting his work at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) annual exhibitions, the only significant venue in Ireland through which to establish his reputation as a sculptor. In addition, he showed at the Oireachtas, the Gaelic League, the Irish Art Companions and the Arts and Crafts Society. Recognition was swift. In 1911, he won the gold medal for sculpture and was elected an Associate member of the RHA.

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In 1912, Power set up his own stone sculpture business, taking on all kinds of work, although his main ambition - soon to be realized - was to attract major architectural sculptural commissions for nationalist patrons. These came his way in 1917 and 1918 in the wake of reconstruction work following the 1916 Dublin Rising, including relief sculpture for the Munster & Leinster Bank in O'Connell Street. At the same time Power continued exhibiting at the RHA, showing (inter alia) the commissions he had won through his friendship with Orpen. Among his notable works was the bronze sculpture of WB Yeats, a marble portrait of the Irish martyr and Lord Mayor of Cork Terence McSwiney: a job which Power began during a trip to see the dying McSwiney on hunger-strike at Brixton Jail, in London.

Important Works of Art
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Following the 1922 Treaty, Power was in immediate demand as a highly talented nationalistic sculptor. He received commissions for bronze busts of the new Irish President, Arthur Griffiths, and the army chief Michael Collins. He also completed death-masks for both men which were added to the Cenotaph on Leinster Lawn next to Dail Eireann. He also created sculptural designs for the new coinage and the Queen Tailte statuette for the Tailteann games. Other monumental commissions followed, such as the sculpture memorial to the Gaelic writer Padraic O'Conaire (Eyre Square, Galway), his pikeman memorial (unveiled in Tralee, County Kerry, by Maud Gonne McBride) for those who died in the 1798 Rebellion, and the Sean MacDiarmada memorial for Kiltyclogher in County Leitrim.

Religious commissions from the Catholic church also came his way. Such works included: Madonna and Child (All Hallows College, Drumcondra), a memorial to Dublin Archbishop Walsh, and architectural sculpture for the Cathedral of Mullingar in County Westmeath.

During the 1930s, Power's sculptural expertise was called upon by both independent republican organizations and the goverment to commemorate their chosen heroes. These commissions included a bronze bust of Cathal Brugha, a plaster bust of Eamon de Valera, and many others. By the late 1930s he was arguably the greatest sculptor in Ireland, yet he failed to secure the post of Professor of Sculpture at the Dublin College of Art: a sign of changing sentiment perhaps.

In 1940, he joined the Art Advisory Committee at the Municipal Gallery, and was appointed to the board of the National Gallery of Ireland. In 1944, he joined Jack B Yeats and Dermod O'Brien as a member of the selection committee for the Oireachtas Art Exhibition. A year later, after an accident in his studio, Power suffered a serious hernia which led to his death some months later. A sad end to one of the great figures in the history of Irish art in the early 20th century.

Sculpture Appreciation: Ireland
To learn how to evaluate Irish sculptors like the academic realist Albert Power, see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture. For earlier works, please see: How to Appreciate Sculpture.

More Information

For works from Ancient Greece, click: Greek Sculpture. For other important Irish sculptors, read about the neo-classical John Hogan, the Anglo-Irish John Henry Foley, the Northern Ireland sculptress Rosamund Praeger, the Romantic Nationalist Oliver Sheppard, the traditional stone sculptor Seamus Murphy, the Surrealist FE McWilliam, the Polish-Irish sculptress Alexandra Wejchert, the modernist steel sculptor Conor Fallon, the bird sculptor Oisin Kelly, the expressionist Edward Delaney, the public artist Eamonn O'Doherty and the contemporary figure sculptor Rowan Gillespie.

• For more facts about sculptors and contemporary sculpture in Ireland, see: Irish Art Guide.
• For details of wood sculpture, see: Wood Carving.
• For information about ceramics sculpture, see: Ceramic Art.
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