Please note that due to demand our our second and final tour date is now also booked out, sorry! We do however strongly recommend people visit the Creating History exhibition at the NGI which closes January 15th (2017) Admission is free. All details on the NGI website
Creating History is a superb exhibition and is the National Gallery of Ireland’s principal contribution to the Decade of Centenaries. For reasons of space constraints however, it has a short run, having opened 11 October and running to 15th January . It’s showing in the Beit Wing Galleries, with admission free. Entrance to the NGi these days is of course via the Millennium Wing, with doors on Clare St.
The exhibition, subtitled “Stories of Ireland in Art” is a clever one. It uses around 50 works to illuminate Irish history from the Battle of Kinsale to the Irish Free State. But at the same time the exhibition makes us aware that none of these artworks were ever neutral documents of some impartial eye witness. The view of history presented by each is determined by viewpoint, political, ethic, religious feelings, beliefs, principals and prejudices. In presenting such versions of Ireland’s history (for contemporaries and for posterity alike) artists and patrons were fixing and propagating such beliefs, principals and prejudices. They were fixing events in a certain light and framing them for posterity, fixed thus for evermore. They were, quite literally, “creating History”.
This exhibition will only run until January 17th. It will as we say “be over before you know it”. I highly recommend seeing it. Pop in any time, admission is free. For those who like to combine their art viewing with a little discussion, of both art and history, I a small informal sociable evening tour 6pm to 8pm on the evening of Thursday 12th of December (2016), which was a great success. (You can see the reaction on the Dublin Decoded Facebook page) Accordingly I’ve been asked to do it again and am waiting for confirmation of our tour-booking from the NGI. This unfortunately will not happen alas until the 5/6th of January. However, subject to that permission, I intend to go ahead and have 5-7 people signed up for the evening of the 12th Jan. 6pm-8pm. (There are only a maximum of 14 spots available in total NGI tours). I’m not selling tickets online for this tour. I will accept bookings on a trust basis via an email to firstname.lastname@example.org -with a very clear email subject header please) People can pay at the beginning of the tour. Tickets €20 each. Remember it is an evening tour. 6-8pm, please check your availability before contacting us. Many thanks.
Those who would like to attend should alert me via that email. Subject to my confirmation reply email, they should then meet me 5-10 minutes before the start of the tour at the NGI please, say 5.50pm Thursday 12th. I will be on the bench outside the NGI bookshop, in the foyer area of the Millennium Wing. The NGI entrance is on Clare St. Please use a clear subject header in your email.
The curating of the exhibition is artful, works are arranged not chronologically but thematically, with sections entitled Testimony, Conflict, Assembly, Allegory and Lamentation. Some paintings from the Gallery’s permanent collection have not been seen for years, William Turner De Lond’s work for example, perhaps since themes like “George IV, King of England, entering Dublin” 1821, have hardly been the most popular for most visitors in recent years. Other are far more familiar, for example Francis Wheatley’s Dublin Volunteers on College Green of 1779 (below) or Edwin Hayes’ The Emigrant Ship, (1853). All these quirks of curatorial history tell their own tale. Indeed they are themselves part of “creating history”.
The NGI’s own works in this exhibition are complemented by loans from both public and private collections in Ireland and overseas, including a second spectacular work by Wheatley; The Irish House of Commons, of 1780. You may well have seen this lovable image in reproduction or engraving, but unlike Wheatley’s Volunteers painting, you are unlikely to have met it in person before as it normally resides in Leeds, as befits a property of Leeds Museums and Galleries. You have to see this picture in the flesh to get its full power and political impact. This exhibition offers us a once in a lifetime chance to do so. The picture is very unusual and in fact very funny, speaking to the great vanity of its subjects, and to the greed and opportunism of its artist.
Another works in this show are owned by the NGI but usually hang elsewhere, out on long-term loan. Notably this includes Jan Wyck’s Battle of the Boyne (1693) Not only is this picture usually hung in the shadows at Malahide Castle, it hadn’t been cleaned for years. It has recently undergone extensive conservation and is revealed here in all its glory. The best known and most contemporaneous depiction of Ireland’s perhaps most iconic, certainly most internationally significant battle. Again, this is a work that must be seen in the flesh.
Among paintings we’ll discuss is the topographical work The Battle of Kinsale: This is an extraordinary artwork, sort of half-painting/half map which defies many of our expectation of what painting is. We’ll also look closely at Jan Wyck’s Battle of the Boyne and both of the remarkable Francis Wheatley works. The Irish House of Commons with its rich cast of minutely, painted real life characters (a hundred-plus tiny virtuoso portraits) is full of stories and of homour. We’ll discuss the 19th century depictions of poverty, famine and Catholic Emancipation (such as Joseph Patrick Haverty’s, The Monster Meeting at Clifden, c.1844) and images of and from the Celtic Revival. In the context of the early 20th century, we’ll discuss pictures of the First World War and the Revolutionary Era including of course the 1916 Easter Rising. A rich and varied feast in other words. I hope you’ll join us. Alternatively as I say, the exhibition is on display in the Beit Wing, runs until 15 January 2017 and normal admission is free. I can not recommend it highly enough. Images have a powerful effect on the way we view history. Viewing this exhibition one is reminded of the words of Walter Benjamin who stated that when it crystallizes in our minds- in our collective and individual understanding- history crystallizes, not into words and text, but into images and pictures. It’s through picture, not words, that we imbibe, share and understand the past, from our earliest and most formative years, until the end of our life.
Make sure you see this show.
above: John Lavery (1856–1941) High Treason, Court of Criminal Appeal: the Trial of Sir Roger Casement, 1916, Oil on canvas. 194.5 x 302.5 cm © UK Government Art Collection