Oisin Kelly
Biography of Irish Sculptor Noted for Statue of Jim Larkin, Dublin.

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Oisin Kelly (1915-81)

One of the most versatile figures in Irish sculpture, Oisin Kelly was born in Dublin, and studied languages at Trinity College, before taking up a travelling scholarship to frankfurt where he attended art school. On his return to Ireland he became a teacher like his father. But fine art was still an important interest, and he took evening classes at the National College of Art and Design. At the end of the war, he taught in Waterford, where he attended wood-carving evening classes under Robert Burke, the principal.

In 1946, he moved back to Rathfarnham Dublin where he continued teaching for the next 20 years: first in French, then Irish, and later art. Meanwhile he continued to pursue his interest in sculpture, and for 9 months (1947-8) trained under Henry Moore in the arts faculty of Chelsea Polytechnic in London.


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In 1949, Kelly received his first Church commission from the architect Liam McCormick. Thereafter, religious themes and motifs were a consistent element in his output. Indeed, he was arguably one of the few artists capable of producing religious artworks which had a genuine religious feeling - the result of deep but simple conviction, without rhetoric or sentimentality, though often with a touch of humour.

In 1951, Kelly became a member of the Committee of the Irish Exhibition of Living Art. In 1965, he was elected a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy. In 1964 he was appointed artist-in-residence at the Kilkenny Design Workshops, and two years later received a commission for a statue for the new Liberty Hall in Dublin. (The statue, 'Working Men' was subsequently relocated to City Hall, Cork. Another of Kelly's sculptures, 'The Children of Lir' was sited in the Garden of Remembrance, Dublin. Other commemorative statues by Kelly include those for Roger Casement and James Larkin.

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For the most important works, see: Greatest Sculptures Ever.


In 1975, he was appointed Professor of Sculpture at the Royal Hibernian Academy, and in 1978 enjoyed retrospective exhibitions in Dublin, Cork and Belfast. In addition to religious and commemorative work, Kelly excels in studies of birds and animals - for example, his work 'Birds Alighting' - and small scale sculpture such as, 'The Dancing Sailor'. As a sculptor, he was equally comfortable with wood, stone, or metalwork like bronze and steel, and in stature he was the foremost Irish sculptor of the generation who emerged at the beginning of the Irish Exhibition of Living Art.

Sculpture Appreciation: Ireland
To learn how to evaluate 20th century Irish sculptors like Oisin Kelly, see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture. For earlier works, please see: How to Appreciate Sculpture.

Further Information

For classical works, see Greek Sculpture. For more about Irish sculptors, see: John Hogan (Waterford), John Henry Foley (Dublin), Oliver Sheppard (Tyrone), Rosamund Praeger (County Down), Albert G Power (Dublin), Seamus Murphy (Cork), FE McWilliam (County Down), Alexandra Wejchert (Crackow and Limerick), Conor Fallon (Dublin), Eamonn O'Doherty (Derry), Edward Delaney (Dublin/Connemara) and Rowan Gillespie (Dublin).

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