contextual study: landscape, soul and psyche

(image: Many Ferries, Jack B. Yates, 1948). i just watched an interesting documentary on RTÉ player called Soul of Ireland – The Landscape Painter (2016). although focusing on painting there was a lot i could relate to in my contextual study. it also gave a very romanticised notion of the irish landscape and made little or no reference to the gendering of the landscape and its prescriptive stereotypes – a programme for another day i suppose. anyway here are some points to think about or reference.

landscape and irish psyche: the art critic Brain Fallon explained the that relationship that the irish have to the landscape is unique. he says: “the landscape is history, growth it survival from its fertility, we live off it as an agricultural country, we live on the terms of nature because we had so much of it as a very small population. no other country in Europe id say had quite the same relationship with the soil with the landscape as we have so much of it. its a curiously intimate almost a soul thing, it is right at the centre of the country’s  psyche its almost a sacred thing”. He goes on to say, after the rising and birth of Free State, the state turned to Henry and he became painter laureate of the new nation. with many artists followed his style and he became cliche. in the work of Keating, peasants were reduced to stereotypes and looked like people posing in the studio.

landscape and irish identity: looking at the works by JB Yates, Sean Keating and Paul Henry, historian Roisin Kennedy says that the west was an imagined place, it was almost a utopian part of ireland and closely linked with burgeoning nationalism and painters were very much aware of that. she says that there was no cohesive and conscious effort to create an irish school of art like the modernists. without a unifying agenda, they worked in different ways. the re-interest in JB Yates paintings came out of an nostalgia for that lost dream.

west of ireland landscape: historian Sighle Bhrethnach-Lynch also explains that painting and literary artists started to go there as it was very different from urban towns. it linked back to a gaelic past – “it is the essence of ireland” – charles lambe.

another historian Brendan Rooney says the idea of an indigenous artist appeared after the Act of Union and there is a dept owed to late 18th century landscape artists. Looking at the work of Hone, this artist embraced an international and French aesthetic but appropriated to an irish landscape – cattle etc.

ciaran mc gonagle: the aesthetic that drove and still drive many irish landscape painters began with the century barbazon school where artists started painting in the open air. the artist Hone for example. he also discussed his fathers work – Maurice McGonagle. he said landscape painters could not be detached from politics  – they were republicans and were looking to define irishness, someone willing to take up arms against the mismanagement of the country under british rule especially during WW1. Mc Gonagle’s work might be worth referencing re gender identity. his brother Muiris says – “the state cant drive art but art can drive the state”.

other points made relating to landscape and national identity: Walter Osborne was one of the first to go to the west followed by Yates and then Paul Henry, Craig, Lambe also. all mixing with writers, poets and dramatists. Yates said “the land of sligo and the sky above me has made me a painter. my spiritual home is sligo”.

weather and landscape: various painters discussed what it is about the landscape that draws them to it as a subject. some quotes: the weather changes us, its good for the soul. it is important to take what you want from the landscape. the movement of a wave engages me, the colour changes all the time, never-endingly beautiful. light changes quicker here, you know you are on an island, nothing stays the same. like a face without make up. it is inspiration, it excites me, you need to be ready for it when it happens. an awful lot of emotion, you can’t ask yourself too many questions. its a magic. the love of the landscape and being so happy there – why i came to live in the landscape. every second is different. the programme finishes with Dorothy Cross discussing how landscape painting is about one moment in time.

links and reference:

Soul of Ireland – The Landscape Painter, 2016 (TV), RTÉ, 2nd September 2016. 21.30. Available at: (Accessed: 27th March 2017)

Tipton, G. (2017) Jack B Yates v Paul Henry: Two Visions of Ireland. Irish Times Online. Available at: (Accessed: 29 MArch 2018)

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