• Thursday , 5 December 2019

Drawing Dublin at the National Gallery


Rose Barton (1856-1929) ‘Going to the Levée at Dublin Castle,’ 1897. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland

The National Gallery of Ireland, Print Gallery

5 May – 26 August 2018

Dublin has famously starred in literature, including Louis MacNeice’s poem ‘Dublin’, and James Joyce’s novel ‘Ulysses’. The city and its hinterland have also inspired visual artists to make drawings – James Malton’s watercolours, translated into print and sold for profit; Flora Mitchell’s works in ink, graphite and gouache capturing the disappearing architecture of the city; and Harry Kernoff’s pencil sketches on which he based his colourful oil paintings. From 5 May to 26 August 2018, the National Gallery of Ireland is delighted to present an exhibition of some 70 works from its collection, in a variety of media, from graphite to aquatint and etching, showcasing Dublin, and its colourful characters, from the 1690s to the 1960s.

Anne Hodge, the exhibition’s curator, says: “Unusually, this exhibition about Dublin includes forgotten places and anonymous people, such as a windmill at a quarry in Rathgar, and a portrait of ‘Mrs Moore’, who lived in the tenements behind Mount Street. Notable is a group of sketches of ordinary Dubliners – a woman pushing a pram; unemployed men; children in Stephen’s Green – drawn by stained glass artist Michael Healy while on his lunch break. These simple images capture gestures and gaits brilliantly. Healy could be seen as Dublin’s L.S. Lowry.”

Dublin has expanded and changed radically over the centuries, its mix of grand and humble buildings constantly evolving with different areas gaining favour or falling into decline. The exhibition tells two stories – of the changing landscape over time, and of the people who lived and worked there. 

On display will be fascinating early landscapes including Francis Place’s pen and ink panorama Dublin from the Phoenix Park, 1698, with its rural landscape of rolling hills and valleys, soon to be covered by urban sprawl. In Francis Wheatley’s ink and wash drawing Bargaining at Donnybrook Fair near Dublin, 1782, we see an unusual image of Donnybrook – today one of Dublin’s more salubrious areas. In Wheatley’s day it enjoyed a less savoury reputation for carousing and rowdiness.


James Malton (1761-1803) ‘The Custom House, Dublin,’ 1793. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland

Centre stage in the display will be a group of James Malton’s magnificent large-scale watercolours showing Dublin’s fine public buildings of the eighteenth century. These dramatic works sparked a very successful print series, published by Malton in the late 1790s. Ten of Flora Mitchell’s colourful illustrations of Dublin, produced for her book Vanishing Dublin (1966) offer a remarkable record of the city before many buildings were demolished. 

Visitors can imagine how the gentry lived through Rose Barton’s delicate watercolour Going to the Levée at Dublin Castle, 1897, and James Malton’s St Stephen’s Green Gardens, Dublin, 1796). People from all walks of life are recorded drinking and trading (Francis Wheatley’s Bargaining at Donnybrook Fair near Dublin, 1782); skulking in alleys (William Orpen’s Merchant’s Arch, Dublin, c.1909); and mending boats on the Liffey (James Malton’s The Custom House Dublin, 1793). Daily Mail cartoonist Ralph Sallon’s caricatures from the late 1940s depict politicians, socialites and important figures in Irish cultural life.

Many of the people depicted in these drawings are anonymous, included by the artists to give life, scale and a sense of reality to both cityscapes and views of the countryside. These small figures – shown shopping, driving carts, reading newspapers or simply conversing – add interest and narrative, and give a glimpse of contemporary fashions and the seasons. In Joseph Tudor’s Sackville Street and Gardiner’s Mall, c.1750, women in wide pannier dresses and men with tricorn hats carrying sedan chairs show how different the capital city was 250 years ago. In the foreground, a man being pulled along in a wheeled-chair could be the Dublin character ‘Hackball, King of the Beggars’, who according to an account of the time ‘…rides triumphantly in his Chaise drawn by an Ass …’.

The exhibition is curated by Anne Hodge, Curator of Prints & Drawings, with Niamh MacNally, Assistant Curator. A public programme of talks and activities will complement the show.

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