Les Bigoudenes by Norah McGuinness (1901 - 1980)

Date: N.D.
Dimensions: 41 × 50.75cm
Medium: oil on board
Collection: Niland Collection
Provenance: Donated by The Haverty Trust, 1961


Norah McGuinness was born in Londonderry where her father was a coal merchant. In 1921 she won a scholarship to the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and later studied for a period at the Chelsea Polytechnic in London.

In 1929, after the break up of her short lived marriage, McGuinness went to study in Paris with the Cubist André Lhote. While the influence of Cubism can be seen in works such as Garden Green, Les Bigoudenes is painted in a naïve or ‘primitive’ style reminiscent of Gauguin or George Rouault.

The painting depicts Breton women wearing traditional tall lace headdresses, known as Bigouden, that are specific to the Pays Bigouden region of Brittany. Many artists including Gauguin and the Irish post-Impressionist painter Roderic O’Conor had been inspired by the landscape and inhabitants of Brittany. Breton women dressed in traditional costume feature in Gauguin’s celebrated painting Vision after the Sermon 1888 and in many of O’Conor’s paintings including “Une Jeune Bretonne” c.1903.

The date of this painting is unknown but a work titled Brittany was included in an exhibition of McGuinness’ work at the Leicester Galleries, London, in 1951 suggesting that she had been painting in the region at that time.

Written by Riann Coulter


About the Artist

Norah McGuinness (1901 - 1980)

Born 1901, Derry, Northern Ireland. Died 1980, Dún Laoghaire, Ireland. Norah McGuinness, painter and illustrator, was born on 7th November 1901 in Lawrence Hill, County Derry. She studied at Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and Chelsea Polytechnic, and spent the 1920s working in Dublin as a stage designer and book illustrator. Books she has illustrated include Laurence Sternes, A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (1925) and titles by W. B. Yeats. In 1929, after her divorce from editor Geoffrey Phibbs, she moved to Paris to work at André Lhote’s studio. She later moved to London, where she was a member of Lucy Wertheims “Twenties Group” and the avant-garde “London Group”. She lived in New York from 1937 to 1939, then settled in Dublin and concentrated on painting. She was known for her vivid, highly coloured landscapes, influenced by Cubism, as was associated with the Modernist movement in Ireland. She helped to found the Irish Exhibition of Living Art in 1943, becoming its president the following year, and represented Ireland at the 1950 Venice Biennale. She was elected an honorary member of Royal Hibernian Academy in 1957, but later resigned. There was a retrospective of her work in the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Trinity College Dublin, in 1968 and in 1973 the College awarded her an honorary doctorate.

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