So you’re interested in learning more about Irish art and potentially collecting some pieces of your own—but you have no idea where to start?
Today, I will take you through a brief history of Irish art and a few essential points to help build your familiarity with Irish culture.
Table of Contents
The History of Irish Art
The early days of Irish art began around 3200 BC with the emergence of Neolithic stone carvings.
By around 300 BC Ireland was introduced to Celtic art and La Tene Culture through trade links with Britain and Northern Europe.
From there, Ireland developed Celtic designs you may be familiar with, such as Celtic crosses, spiral designs, Celtic knotwork, and intricate interlaced patterns.
The insular art style resulted from the Christianization of Ireland, characterized by decorative manuscripts, stonework, and metalwork. From 1200 to 1700, Ireland was left untouched by the influence of Renaissance art. During this time, Irish art was left stagnant.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, new artists emerged into fine art. They painted beautiful portraits and landscapes. However, many artists decided to venture to London and Paris for more artist opportunities and easier access to education.
Irish visual arts took a while to develop due to the lack of patrons of government, church, or wealthy businessmen interested in art.
Although by the twentieth century in Ireland, the Celtic Revival of interest in Celtic culture afforded many artists more artistic opportunities.
And so, a solid basis was formed for the reemergence of art in Ireland—a new creative era was born.
Where to Get Started
Beyond learning about the history and development of Irish art and culture in Irish society, it’s helpful to study a few of the early local artists and their respective works from the early days of Irish art to more contemporary artists.
Early Irish Artists
Here’s a brief look at some of Ireland’s most acclaimed artists from the 18th to 20th centuries.
Robert Carver (1730 – 1791)
Robert Carver was a leading landscape painter during the second half of the 18th century.
Carver established himself as an esteemed scenery painter and eventually moved to London, where he became the head scene painter at Drury Lane.
Robert Carver’s works were highly regarded, and he received much praise.
Walter Osborne (1859 – 1903)
Walter Osborne was an Irish impressionist landscape and portrait painter.
Many of his pieces documented everyday working-class life. His work depicts the daily life of ordinary women, children, and working-class men in Dublin and surrounding rural areas.
Jack B Yeats (1871 – 1957)
Jack B Yeats, an artist, Olympic medalist, and the brother of W.B. Yeats, began his artistic career as an illustrator.
Yeats’ later artworks used elements of Romanticism and even later Expressionism. You can view one of Yeats’ more famous pieces, The Liffey Swim, at the National Gallery of Ireland.
This painting captures the excitement and atmosphere of an event that has been part of Dublin’s annual spring sporting calendar since 1920.
He was an expert portrait artist and many of his paintings are on display at the National Gallery of Ireland. He painted a portrait of his brother, William Butler Yeats which is on view in the gallery also.
Sir John Lavery (1856 – 1941)
Best known for his portraits and war time paintings, Sir John Lavery’s second wife, Hazel Martyn, was his model in over 400 paintings.
The most famous is the painting of Hazel as Cathleen Ní Houlihán, an iconic female representation of Mother Ireland.
He studied art in Glasgow and Paris, and painted many portraits of the Asquith family, who made their fortune in America.
Sympathetic to the Irish cause for independence, in 1921 he gave his London home to the Irish treaty negotiatiors as a place to stay.
After Michael Collins was assasinated, he painted a portrait of the Irishman, which now hangs int he Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.
If you’re interested in seeing more work from artists of Northern Ireland, a few prominent artists to start with include: John Luke, Colin Middleton, William Scott, Neil Shawcross, and Gladys Maccabe.
Contemporary Irish Art
Some of Ireland’s contemporary artists and Irish sculptors include Brian O’Doherty and Dorothy Cross.
O’Doherty is an Irish art critic, artist, writer, and academic. He now lives in New York. During his artistic career, O’Doherty went by many alter egos like Patrick Ireland.
Dorothy Cross is an Irish artist who works with many mediums, including sculpture, photography, video, and installation. She was born in Cork, Ireland.
Her work centers around sexual and cultural identity, personal history, memory, and the gaps between the conscious and subconscious.
Learn More About Irish Art
Aside from visiting Ireland and exploring Irish art and culture firsthand, the next best thing would be to take a virtual tour of some Irish art museums.
Today, many museums offer free virtual tours at any time. The National Gallery of Ireland provides a virtual tour and other educational resources to help you discover Irish art and learn more about the incredible pieces on display at their gallery.
The Hugh Lane Gallery on Parnell Square in Dublin boasts an extensive display of Irish artwork including notable artists such as Francis Bacon, Paul Henry and Harry Clarke.
Another fantastic resource is the Irish Arts Center found in New York City.
The Irish Arts Center opened its doors in 1972 and is based in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. Its mission is to provide “a home for artists and audiences of all backgrounds who share a passion or appreciation for the evolving arts and culture of contemporary Ireland and Irish America.”
I hope this article gave you a bit more understanding of Irish art and provided some excellent jumping-off points for diving in and learning more about Irish art and culture.
If you’d love to learn more about Irish culture, art, and travel, consider joining my Facebook community, Irish American Mom, where I share all things, Irish
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom