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An Introduction to Irish Art and Irish Artists

Ireland has a fine and diverse history relating to arts and crafts. And, the rich Celtic heritage of Irish arts and crafts goes back many centuries. The Irish monastic culture of the 6th century is well documented and illuminated in manuscripts such as the books of Durrow and Kells. However, Irish art has changed over the years and followed many of the well-known art movements while retaining a special and very individual Irish character.


Crawford College of Art graduate: Brian Smyth

In the Irish arts movement music and literature have always been strong. However it wasn't until the late 17th century that Irish painting began to gain importance. Art institutions, such as the Royal Dublin Society which was established in 1731 and the Royal Irish Academy of Art (founded 1785) fostered and encouraged the popularity and quality of Irish art. In the process the art institutions promoted the art works of such Irish painters as George Barret and James Barry. These artistic developments continued into the nineteenth century with the establishment of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1823, and the expansion of the Royal Dublin Society, the Royal Irish Academy and the Crawford College of Art.

The 19th and 20th centuries witnessed a revival in the Irish language and culture which in turn created interest and commitment in the visual Irish arts. A strong indigenous tradition of Irish painting subsequently emerged. Irish artists of the period included John Butler Yeats the portrait painter, John Lavery, Sean Keating, James Sleator, Leo Whelan, and landscape and portrait painter Maurice MacGonigal. This group of Irish artists, together with returning emigrant sculptors such as John Foley, painters like the Irish genre painter Richard Thomas Moynan, the landscape artist Paul Henry, the expressionist Jack Butler Yeats, as well as the portraitist William Orpen were representative of a new movement among local artists.

Irish artist Cormac O'Leary

A new and younger generation of more internationally minded Irish artists and painters emerged in the early 20th century. These Irish artists included Mary Swanzy, Mainie Jellett and Evie Hone, a stained glass artist of international stature. Jellett and Hone studied art under one of the most influential British artists, Walter Sickert. Following this period of working with Sickert in London they were later instrumental in introducing Cubism and other abstract art forms to Ireland, forming the avant-garde Society of Dublin Painters in the process.

The post-war years saw the establishment of Irish Exhibition of Living Art (IELA) as a modern showcase for Irish painting. This was supported by artists Patrick Scott, Tony O'Malley, Camille Souter and Barrie Cooke and all forms of Irish visual art and craft are celebrated.

The late 20th century saw interest and demand in collecting Irish art expand rapidly. This was fuelled by a strong economic boom and primarily focused on art investment in twentieth century painters. Artists who benefited by this interest in Irish art included contemporary painters, such as Brian Maguire, Francis Tansey, Colin Davidson, Donald Teskey, Felim Egan, Graham Knuttel, John Shinnors, Ken Hamilton and Mark O'Neill.

Today the tradition of producing creative and challenging Irish art works continues. At Red Rag we are proud to represent and promote many of today's contemporary Irish artists including as: Val Byrne, George Callaghan, John Morris, Cormac O'Leary, Brian Smyth and Manus Walsh

Port Patrick by George Callaghan

For further information about Irish Art and Irish Artists please contact the gallery

Red Rag Gallery for Contemporary Irish Art and Paintings

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