Shining Shallows By George William Russell (AE) (1867 - 1935)

Date: 1908
Dimensions: 61.5 × 40.5cm
Medium Oil: on canvas
Collection: Niland Collection
Provenance: Presented by James A Healy, 1966, (John & Catherine Healy Memorial Collection)


This scene of children wading on a beach at sunset is an impressive example of Russell’s imaginative landscapes which were extremely popular when exhibited at the beginning of the 20th century. Many of his paintings were created while on holidays in Donegal or Sligo or at weekends when he had some free time from his other work as a poet, essayist and active member of the co-operative movement.

The influence of French Symbolist art which Russell would have known from collections in Ireland and England and through reproduction can be seen in the sinuous forms of the sand and the current of the tide which sweeps across the composition. The rich gold, blues and reds of the sky transform the scene from the mundane into something more timeless and significant. This exaggeration of the scene reflects Russell’s interest in spiritualism and belief in a higher reality. He has signed the painting AE in the lower right, which is derived from the word Aeon, meaning an emanation of God. Russell was an active member of Dublin’s Theosophical Society and claimed to have experienced supernatural visions.

This painting was bought from the artist by John Quinn. It is listed in a letter from Russell to Quinn of 17 October 1908 in which the artist confirms that it has been packed along with other paintings to send to New York (1). It was exhibited at the American Art Galleries in 1927 as part of the John Quinn collection where Healy may have acquired it. Healy presented the work to Sligo in 1966

(1) Marian Burleigh, George Russell (AE) The Painter of the Irish Renaissance, New York University, 1978, Ph.D.

Written by Roisin Kennedy


About the Artist

George William Russell (AE) (1867-1935)

Born 1867, Lurgan, Ireland. Died 1935, Bournemouth, England. Russell was born in Lurgan, County Armagh on 10 April 1867, moving to Dublin with his family when he was eleven. In 1890, he started work at Pym’s store in Dublin. For many years, beginning in 1897, he worked full-time for Sir Horace Plunkett’s Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, a co-operative movement. He began as a ‘missionary’, travelling extensively throughout Ireland convincing farmers of the benefit of developing credit societies and co-operative banks. He became editor first of The Irish Homestead, and later of its successor, The Irish Statesman, where he published Patrick Kavanagh’s early poems, until it ceased publication in 1930. After leaving school in 1884, Russell went to Dublin’s Metropolitan School of Art where he first met W.B.Yeats, who became his friend and later his rival. In that year too Russell suddenly began to experience waking dreams of astonishing power and vividness which seemed to be thrust into his consciousness by a mind which was not his. A.E.‘s and Yeats’s interests in these visions led both to Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Movement, with A.E. later joining the Dublin group. Russell was one of the major writers in the Irish Literary Renaissance. Among his poetry collections are Homeward: Songs by the Way (1894); The Earth Breath (1897); The Divine Vision (1904); Collected Poems (London, MacMillan, 1913/New York, John Lane, 1916); Salutation (1917) The House of the Titans (1934); and Selected Poems (1935). His mystical writings include The Candle of Vision (1918); The Avatars (1933); The Interpreters (1922); and Song and its Fountains (1932). Russell was principally a painter of landscapes with figures, and of wonderful beings who might be incorporated into the landscapes, or be the dominant features on the canvas, often with amazed mortals observing them. This fluency, and habit of moving from one canvas to a new one to capture a new image meant that his pictures were often left unfinished, and as a result many of them are not as good as he could have made them. Those he did complete are often outstanding. He used the pseudonym AE, or more properly “Æ” This derived from an earlier “Æ‘on” signifying the lifelong quest of man, subsequently shortened. He died on July 17, 1935, in Bournemouth, England. He is buried in Dublin.

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