Irish art and history to go on show in London

At first glance, the painting ‘On the Run, War of Independence’ by Sean Keating appears to depict a volunteer checking his mobile phone.

Irish art and history to go on show in London

Closer inspection reveals he is probably cleaning his pistol.

This is just one of a number of national paintings to go on display in London next May as part of an exhibition of Irish art from the Allied Irish Banks and Crawford Art Gallery collections.

The display will include works by Sir William Orpen, Jack B Yeats, Aloysius O’Kelly and Paul Henry, as well as those of modern artists William Crozier, Séan Scully, William Scott and Shane Blount.

The first major exhibition of Irish Art to be held in London for more than 30 years will open at the Mall Galleries on May 13 until May 31.

Entitled The Art of a Nation, the selected works celebrate the rich story of Irish art from 1880 to the present day. The exhibition will be opened by Heather Humphreys, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Drawing largely on Allied Irish Banks’ collection of paintings, photography, tapestry, sculptures and video, the exhibition includes more than 70 works by many of Ireland’s greatest artists.

Referencing key moments in Ireland’s social and cultural history, from the War of Independence to the present day, the works range from 19th century en plein air (open air) painters such as Aloysius O’Kelly and Sir John Lavery to the Dublin painters Sean Keating, Jack B Yeats and Paul Henry.


Iconic moments of Irish life are presented in works by Harry Kernoff and Grace Henry.

The exhibition also includes modernist works by Sean Scully and Hughie O’Donoghue, and reflects the strength and depth of contemporary Irish art through the work of John Gerrard and Caroline McCarthy.

One of the most intriguing works is ‘The Boxer’, a pencil and watercolour on paper created by Orpen in 1914. It now hangs in the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork and was painted in a way which came to be adopted as the ‘official’ artistic style of the new Irish Free State.

Presented in collaboration with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, the exhibition offers a survey of the national essence of Irish art spanning 125 years.

The Allied Irish Banks collection began in 1980, acquiring works in order to build a representative collection, including works by Irish artists and works by foreign artists operating in Ireland. It traces the development of Irish art, beginning with the birth of modernism around 1900.

AIB chairman Richard Pym said: “The AIB collection is regarded as one of the finest in Ireland, scrupulously put together over more than three decades. We are delighted that the public in Britain has Ireland’s culture and heritage.”

Speaking at the announcement of the exhibition, the director of the Mall Gallery, Lewis McNaught, said that while many of the artists whose work will feature may not be that well known to a UK art audience, the emphasis for the exhibition had been on the quality of the art, as well as the breadth and depth of the works which will be displayed.

The last major exhibition of Irish Art in London took place in 1980.

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