The Office of Public Works is delighted to welcome visitors today (19 April 2016) to ‘Portraits of a Nation’ a selection of portraits from the State Art Collection in Farmleigh Gallery, Phoenix Park. The exhibition features 82 portraits by 54 artists and spans five centuries from a School of Rembrandt portrait dating to the 1630s to portraits created in 2016, such as eight prints by David Rooney from his original illustrations created for the 1916 Portraits and Lives book which was published recently by the Royal Irish Academy.
Portraits of a Nation brings together a diverse range of artistic styles and offers visitors to the exhibition the opportunity to explore the genre of portraiture throughout the gallery spaces – visitors can imagine conversations taking place between the sitters and the artists – across art forms and across time.
There are historic and contemporary paintings, photographs, original prints, sculpture and drawings on display. The portraits are of figures from different spheres of Irish life – the arts, sport, science, and politics.
The work of many well-known artists are included in the exhibition such as Seán O’Sullivan, Albert Power, Rita Duffy, Carolyn Mulholland, Thomas Ryan, Mick O’Dea, James Hanley, Margaret Corcoran and Louis le Brocquy, alongside works created by recent graduates, such as Shane Keisuke Berkery.
Many of the earliest portraits in the State Art Collection were transferred to the Irish State from 1922 onwards when buildings such as the Royal Hospital Kilmainham and Dublin Castle and their contents came under the care of the Office of Public Works. A portrait of Lord Chesterfield from the State Apartments in Dublin Castle has been confirmed to be by English artist Stephen Slaughter (d. 1765) and it was painted in Dublin in 1746. This discovery was made when the portrait underwent some recent conservation for the exhibition and the details appeared on the canvas after a light cleaning of the old darkened varnish. The portrait of Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694 –1773) is included in the Farmleigh exhibition because of his historic connection with the Phoenix Park (when Lord Lieutenant he opened the Phoenix Park to the public and funded the erection of the Phoenix Column; Chesterfield Avenue was named after him).
After the foundation of the Irish State, successive Governments tasked the Office of Public Works with the acquisition of portraits of national leaders to act as visual histories of the nation. The plaster bust of Thomas Davis (1814-1845) by Albert Power is on display. Dating to 1945, it was commissioned by the Government to mark the centenary of the death of Davis. This is the original model from which the bronze busts of Davis that are currently on display in the Dáil Chamber in Leinster House and the entrance hall in Áras an Uachtaráin were later cast. The sculptor died before the plaster bust was cast in bronze but his daughter, May Power, painted the plaster model in bronze in time for the official ceremony.
The sitters in the portraits include figures from Irish public life such as Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Henry Grattan, Daniel O’Connell, James Stephens, Seán Mac Diarmada, President and Bean de Valera, and William and Patrick Pearse. There are also contemporary portraits of literary figures, sports people, and some artists’ self-portraits.
Notes to Editors:
Exhibition: PORTRAITS OF A NATION
Gallery: Farmleigh Gallery / Phoenix Park / Castleknock / Dublin 15
Dates: Friday 8 April – Sunday 29 May, 2016
Times: Tuesday to Sunday 10am – 5pm (closed for lunch 1-2)