Mary-Jane Boland, Department of Art History, University of Nottingham
The Trouble with ‘Genre’: Perceptions and definitions of genre painting in nineteenth-century Ireland
The term ‘genre painting’ is used today to describe scenes of daily life. This paper will highlight the fact that this is in fact a rather problematic term - particularly in an Irish context. Despite the extensive use of the term in modern art historical discourse, its casual use means it is difficult to define and historians are often vague about what actually constitutes a ‘genre’ scene.
As a derivative of the French word for ‘kind’ or ‘type’, the term referred to all minor categories of painting, such as landscape, still life and animal painting up until the late eighteenth century. In comparison to the distinguished works of history painters, which often required in depth knowledge of famous literary sources, the work of genre painters was considered lowly and sometimes vulgar. Although the term ‘genre painting’ was used in France by art critics such as Denis Diderot to describe scenes of daily life in the mid-eighteenth century, it was rarely used in nineteenth-century English language discussion on art.
Recent research indicates that Irish commentators were relatively unaware of the term ‘genre’ and instead referred to such scenes as ‘subject paintings’ or ‘scenes of familiar life’. This paper will investigate the history of the term in Ireland, which will inevitably lead to an assessment of contemporary attitudes towards genre painting in general. Ultimately this paper will challenge current definitions by both Irish and international art historians of what a genre painting is and suggest the term is an unsuitable way to describe scenes of Irish life.
Emma Dwan O'Reilly, University of Ulster
“What matter who’s speaking, someone said what matter who’s speaking”: Contemporary Art Writing in Ireland
“Art writing”, Maria Fusco, art writer and editor of The Happy Hypocrite art writing journal, says, is “giving a voice to ghosts.” This analogy of a practice which gives voice to the voiceless interrogates the status of the writer and the question of voice through the written text. Art writing then as a discipline which defies complete definition but one which remains interdisciplinary and blurs boundaries between a variety of practices, or as Fusco dubs it, a “monstrous body made up of lots of little bits.” Writer and artist Simon O’Sullivan, in his article ‘Writing on Art; (Case Study: The Buddhist Puja)’ in Parallax in 2001 ponders the nature of writing about art and like Fusco envisages writing about art not as merely a “deconstructive project” but asks “what about something more affirmative? A kind of writing that does not seek to colonize, but instead parallels in some way the ‘work’ of the art object.” writing with the object rather than about the object. Grafting a working definition of art writing as a practice or indeed a medium involves a challenging series of questions of writing and the writer. A location or indeed dislocation or absence of the writer and reader within the text proposes a possible project of deterritorialisation within a textual geography. This poses interesting questions as to what an absence like this could mean within the context of a national writing, or art writing in Ireland. With considerable blanks within Ireland’s art historical background, could the absence of the author within this contemporary textual context be significant?
Beckett, S., 1967. Stories and Texts for Nothing, Grove Press, New York.
Fusco, M. March 2009, [Notes taken from an Art Publishing Seminar, Art Publishing in the Contemporary World held at National College of Art and Design]
Fusco, M. March 2010, [Notes taken from an Art Writing Lecture and Workshop, Writing and Making: Rephrasing the argument – Don’t Say Yes Say Maybe! Contemporary Art Writing and its Environs held at University of Ulster]
O’Sullivan, S. 2001, ‘Writing on Art; (Case Study: The Buddhist Puja)’ in Parallax, 2001, vol. 7, no. 4., pp.115 – 121. [http://www.simonosullivan.net/articles/writing-on-art.pdf – accessed: May 18th, 2010. 15:00.)
Jenny Fitzgibbon TrIARC, Trinity College Dublin
Forging the Nation: Emigré artists and Irish cultural identity
The rapid transformation witnessed in Ireland in recent years has been accompanied by a growing discourse theorising the impact of the Irish diaspora. While many cultural historians recognise migration as a constituent feature of Irish identity, visual artists have also consciously turned to themes of belonging and self representation as means of positioning their work in an increasingly mobile world.
The years between 1980 and 2000 saw a number of important exhibitions that were instrumental in formulating a canon of contemporary art from Ireland. This paper examines how time-based practices were presented to international audiences in exhibitions such as A Sense of Ireland (1980; 1989), The Diaspora Project (1992-1995) and 0044: Irish Artists in Britain (1999). It examines the forging of a nation based identity for contemporary artists and considers the contingent relationship between conceiving of ‘Irish art’ and ‘artists from Ireland’.
The paper suggests it was important for artists to emphasise their Irish identities to increase the international capital of their work, even if many artists had moved abroad to seek support for their interest in time-based media. It examines why exhibitions premised on national terms are less evident in the late 1990s, arguing that an emergent culture of short term mobility as opposed to long term emigration, encouraged critical approaches to the framing of contemporary time-based art from Ireland.
Jane Humphries, TrIARC, Trinity College Dublin
Crossing the threshold: the domestic house/home as sites for contemporary Irish art installations
A variety of artist led initiatives began to utilise domestic spaces as exhibition venues in Ireland from early 2000. This paper seeks to place three of these initiatives: Pallas Heights 2003-2006; House Projects May-September 2007 and Breaking Ground 2001-2009 within their locations and historical context to interpret how the site specificity of the domestic space impacted on the intention, interpretation and reception of the works exhibited.
Wolfgang Kemp outlined that the ‘aesthetics of reception’ requires the following considerations: the work of art; the location; the beholder, the specifics of gender, and history. Therefore, as a woman ‘beholder’ the paper focuses on reading each project from a feminine viewpoint whilst considering Gaston Bachelard’s classic text The Poetics of Space.
Thus, from a gendered phemenological approach, the intentionality of consciousness, perception, memory and fantasy are examined to demonstrate how the site specificity of the domestic space resulted in artwork that presented ambiguous gendered spatial relations and new readings of ‘home’. Considering Barcha Lichtenberg Ettinger’s idea that: ‘The Matrix deals with the possibility of recognizing the other in his/her otherness, difference, and unknown-ness.’ from a feminist perspective, the paper highlights the contestations and subversions played out in the artworks because of the domestic context of the site. It is argued that these projects illustrate how the artists appear to have (re)imagined what is traditionally defined as the feminine, invisible, private space of the domestic house/home into a visible, public site of the domestic everyday.
Dr Nicholas Johnson, Trinity College Dublin
Performative Criticism: Beckett and Duthuit
“The expression that there is nothing to express,
nothing with which to express, nothing from which
to express, no power to express, no desire to express,
together with the obligation to express.”
—Samuel Beckett, “Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit”, 1949
The philosophical dialogue has a long heritage that extends even before Socrates, but as a contemporary form of academic writing, it remains relatively rare. Samuel Beckett, perhaps the best-known unknown of Irish art criticism, experimented with the “dramatic” form of enquiry in his published criticism on the visual arts. In the early part of his most fertile creative period, his dialogues on art with the French critic Georges Duthuit were published in the Paris literary magazine transition (1949). Rather than direct transcripts of the many discussions between Beckett and Duthuit, the Three Dialogues are a witty distillation of the central concerns that divided these two friends, containing (as their letters have shown) text written by both men, but transcribed and arranged exclusively by Beckett. These texts represent a precious and rare example of explicitly stated artistic aims from Beckett. In the guise of talking with his friend about three painters — Pierre Tal-Coat, André Masson and Bram van Velde — Beckett lays out an aesthetic theory that is breathtaking in its radicality and highly revealing of his own artistic impulses at the time.
This special performance event within the “Writing Irish Art History” symposium will not only expose the fascinating content of Beckett’s arguments to a new audience, but will also challenge the formal mechanism by which academic arguments are conventionally communicated. The performance of the dialogue will be followed by an open discussion with the artists, in which questions from the floor are encouraged.
The excerpt to be performed is the third and final dialogue in its entirety. It discusses the Dutch painter Bram van Velde (1895-1981), also a friend of Beckett.
Special thanks is due to the staff of Open House Dublin 2010 for the original workshop performance of this work, to the staff of TRIARC for the opportunity to perform it again, and to the Department of Drama at the Samuel Beckett Centre for its support.
Text: “Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit,” by Samuel Beckett and Georges Duthuit • Adaptation/Q & A: Dr. Nicholas Johnson • Cast: Nicholas Johnson (B.), Nathan Gordon (D.), Marc Atkinson (Assistant)
Bláithín Hurley, University of Cambridge
The Wild Irish Girl in La Serenissima: An exploration of the inspiration for the setting and subject matter of Daniel Maclises’s Salvator Rosa and his Patron.
Irish writer Lady Sydney Morgan’s The Life and Times of Salvator Rosa, her 1823 biography of the seventeenth-century Italian artist, is the undisputed source of inspiration for the subject matter of Cork-born artist Daniel Maclise’s 1835 painting Salvator Rosa and his Patron. However, Lady Morgan’s 1821 publication Italy has always been overlooked in relation to how it may have been employed by Maclise as a source of textual affirmation of the material surroundings and setting for the painting’s narrative. Italy is the substance of a diary in which Lady Morgan recorded her thoughts on Italian society, art, literature and politics during her extended visit there in 1818. In this publication Maclise, who by 1835 had never been to Italy, let alone Venice, would have been presented with all the elements necessary to allow the artist completely capture the essence of that city on canvas. Once, having found the perfect setting for his composition Maclise then turned to Lady Morgan’s second Italian inspired book to find the ideal subject and narrative for his painting.
It is the intention of this paper to shed new light on the painting by unravelling its subject matter through the exploration of both of Lady Morgan’s Italian themed publications, thus repositioning Salvator Rosa and his Patron within Maclise’s oeuvre and Irish painting’s historiography.
William Justin, A Memoir of Daniel Maclise RA, (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1871), p. 129.
Tara Kelly, TrIARC, Trinity College Dublin
‘Treasures of Ireland’: Metalwork, Jewellery and the Irish Canon
This paper will consider the position accorded to metalwork and jewellery within the Irish artistic canon. The Irish canon primarily consists of ancient works such high crosses and other stone sculpture, illuminated and other manuscripts, metalwork and jewellery. The elevation of individual works to canonical status is based upon their historical, cultural and aesthetic importance, which was established with increasing clarity in the nineteenth century through the publication and dissemination of art historical and archaeological research. The proportion of research devoted to metalwork and jewellery in the context of art historical and archaeological scholarship and its impact on the establishment of the Irish canon will be the focus of this paper.
The formation of the Irish canon will be examined, with particular emphasis on the methods and motivations of prominent antiquarian societies like the Royal Irish Academy and the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, as well as academic institutions such as Trinity College, all of which amassed significant collections of early Irish art including metalwork and jewellery. Further, the role of these institutions in connection with the political, economic and social functions of the Irish artistic canon will be discussed.
Keith Smith, UCD Mícheál Ó Cléirigh Institute
The significance of Mooney’s De Provincia Hibernicae S. Francisci and its impact on late 16th and early 17th century Irish history.
This paper will seek to explore the material culture element in Donatus Mooney’s De Provincia Hibernicae S. Francisci and to understand the extent to which this develops our perception of late 16th and early 17th century Ireland. The political and religious turmoil of this period played an immense role in the loss of a solid Franciscan base in Ireland. It also furthered the widespread erosion of their wealth and possessions which had begun with the dissolution of the monasteries in the mid 16th century. The survival of altar plate from this period has been a rarity with only about 30 surviving from the late 16th century to c.1618. This compares with 14 that were created in the 1640 alone. However, simply assessing the remaining altar plate fails to consider the importance of other material culture discussed by Mooney, such as stained glass, architecture and sculpture, and how it can assist our understanding of the period. The condition of Franciscan architecture and structures feature heavily in Mooney’s work and are a telling indicator of the localised hardships the Franciscans faced, at the hands of religious and political enemies, local and foreign. The destruction of the friaries is often regarded as being as a result of acts of religious aggression and hostility but through careful investigation of De Provincia Hibernicae S. Francisci, a fuller picture is created that also reveals the toleration of evicted friars in some circumstances and of others, still under the protection of patrons, seeking temporary dwellings in towns near their former friaries. However it also reveals that responsibility for the destruction of friaries in times of war lay not only at the hands of crown forces. The localised nature of Irish politics resulted in the fortunes of the foundations rising and falling in tandem with that of their patrons, as they faced the reality that their wealth and possessions were most desirable to the many varied facets that made up Irish society at the time, including rival local Irish lords, Protestant English and notably members of other orders and secular clergy. Mooney’s De Provincia Hibernicae S. Franciscis provides evidence to the survival and destruction of these foundations and their wealth. My paper will hope to assess and evaluate the benefit of Mooney’s work in establishing the extent of the Franciscans losses during this period through examining the survival of Franciscan material culture, including architecture, altar plate, stained glass and sculpture. It will also view it in the light of other scholarship to create a fuller picture of the Franciscan Order in Ireland during this period.
Colleen M. Thomas, Department of History of Art & Architecture, Trinity College Dublin
Missing Models and the Problem of Transmission in Early Medieval Irish Sculpture
A new composition within the repertoire of Christian iconography made its first known appearances on sculptured stones in early medieval Scotland and Ireland. The scene illustrated an event in the lives of two early Christian saints, but remarkably, the pair was not native to either land. Paul and Antony had lived in Egypt and were recognized as the earliest practitioners of ascetic monasticism.
As models of the most revered form of contemplative life, the Egyptian hermits were imported to serve as emblems of monastic identity in the sculptural programs of stone monuments. How the composition with these two foreign saints was transmitted to Ireland is a curiosity.
Most of the scenes found on Irish high crosses had already been depicted in early Christian art from Rome and scholars have generally agreed that Insular iconography ultimately found its roots there. Yet, the scene showing Paul and Antony receiving bread from a raven on Insular sculpture had no known antecedent. Accepted art historical methodology would require the assumption of a lost model originating in the Christian Mediterranean. The consistency of the scene across the ten crosses in Ireland would certainly support the existence of a previous exemplar. This was not the case in Scotland, however, where the composition was markedly different from stone to stone. Instead, this little scene hints at the possibility of artistic inventiveness in Insular iconography. In so doing, it questions the dependence on the concept of previous models as sources of early Insular iconography as well as the attendant assumption of linear progression in the development and transmission of a motif.