To Irish culture, the West of Ireland has become synonymous with mythology, legend, folklore and fairytales. The West was also the focus of a pursuit that was central to Irish culture for much of the 20th century: the need to discover, define or construct an authentic national identity. From Malin Head to Mizen Head, the landscape has been imbued with symbolic significance that overwhelms pure geography and identifies the West as the heartland of the authentic Ireland.
The Niland Collection holds a considerable amount of work by some of the finest Irish painters of the 20th century. This exhibition examines the influence of the West of Ireland as a source of inspiration for artists and features works by Percy French, Paul Henry, Sean Keating, Maurice MacGonigal, Jack B. Yeats, Nano Reid, Nick Miller and Dorothy Cross. It illustrates the connection with the North West that The Niland Collection holds through its works.
The tradition of landscape painting has its roots in the West of Ireland, from Sligo and Achill Island to the coasts of Connemara and Donegal. From Paul Henry’s iconic images of the thatched cottages and windswept lakes and Barrie Cook’s painting of Knocknarea to Sean MacSweeney’s boldly hued landscapes, artists have always been inspired by the rugged terrain and changeable climate of the Western seaboard. While landscape is the predominant theme of this exhibition, very few of these images are pure landscapes; instead many of the works focus on the infrastructure of human habitation, the individuals and communities who inhabit the landscape.
Sean Keating’s images of rural peasants, Maurice MacGonigal’s The Gathering, Nano Reid’s Tinkers at the Gate and Nick Miller’s portraits of local writers, suggest those who inhabit the West have also become the subject of art. For Louis le Brocquy, it is the legends and mythologies associated with the West that have provided inspiration. This tradition in landscape painting has inspired later artists of quality, principally Sean McSweeney, to a vocational commitment to the artistic life.