Portrait of Mary Colum
George William Russell (AE) (1867 – 1935)
ArtistGeorge William Russell (AE)
TitlePortrait of Mary Colum
Dimensions53.5 × 43cm
MediumOil on canvas
Mary Colum (1884-1957) was an academic and writer who spent most of her adult life in New York. She was born in Collooney, Co. Sligo and later taught at Padraig Pearse’s school in St. Enda’s in Dublin. In 1912 she married the writer Padraic Colum whose literary career AE had encouraged. The couple emigrated to the United States in 1914.
Colum recounts the creation of this portrait in her auto-biography (1). It was painted in Dublin in 1924 while she was back on a visit from America. AE was interested in painting her so that he could hear her views on modern poetry, a subject on which she wrote and lectured. But during the sittings Colum had difficulty getting a word in as AE held forth on the topic. Colum found the best way of intervening was to ‘whirl off some strange piece of poetry’ usually in French or German which AE didn’t understand. AE got his revenge by making Colum’s curly red hair look wild in the finished portrait, despite the fact that she had had a finger wave put in to keep it under control. Colum also felt that AE had made her mouth too large while AE retorted that nature had given her practically no mouth and that he’d had to invent one for her. One gets a sense of the amiable tension between the two writers in the taut features of Colum’s face. The latter is relieved by the attention given to her red hair and the embroidered blue throw which she is wearing.
(1)Mary Colum, Life and the Dream, Doubleday and Company, New York, 1947, p.172.
Written by Roisin Kennedy