Proceedings of Royal Irish Academy (Dublin); Proceedings of Society of Antiquaries (Dublin); Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Old Series and New Series, edited by F.J. Bigger, Belfast; Wakeman: Handbook of Irish Antiquities (Dublin, 1891); Stokes: Early Christian Art in Ireland (Dublin, 1887); Petrie: Round Towers and Ancient Architecture of Ireland (Dublin, 1845).
By D.J. O’DONOGHUE,
Librarian, University College, Dublin.
It would be difficult to dispute, in view of her innumerable and excellent artists, that there has always been in modern times an art consciousness in Ireland, but it is impossible to assert that there has been any artistic unity in her people. She has produced no school, but merely a great number of brilliant painters, sculptors, and engravers, chiefly for export. With all our acknowledged artistic capacity, we have not, except in one notable instance, produced a cumulative art effect. The history of Irish art is almost uniformly a depressing narrative. During a comparatively brief period in the eighteenth century—significantly enough, it was while the country enjoyed a short spell of national life—there was something like a national patronage of the artist, and the result is visible in the noble public buildings and beautiful houses of the Irish capital, with their universally admired mantelpieces, doors, ceilings, fanlights, ironwork, and carvings. In short, while Ireland had even a partly unfettered control of her own concerns, the arts were generously encouraged by her government and by the wealthy individual. When other European capitals were mere congeries of rookeries, Dublin, the centre of Irish political life, possessed splendid streets, grandly planned. But there was little solidarity among the artistic fraternity. Various associations of artists were formed, which held together fairly well until the flight of the resident town gentry after the Union, and many admirable artists were trained in the schools of the Royal Dublin Society, but, since the opening of the nineteenth century, there has been almost no visible art effort in Dublin. True, there have been many fine artists, who have made a struggle to fix themselves in Dublin, but, as with the Royal Hibernian Academy, of which the best of them were members, the struggle has been a painful agony. Usually the artist migrated to London to join the large group of Irishmen working there; a few others went to America and obtained an honored place in her art annals. Those who went to England secured in many cases the highest rewards of the profession. Several, like Barry, Hone, Barrett, and Cotes, were founders or early members of the Royal Academy; one, Sir Martin Shee, became its President. Nevertheless, many distinguished artists remained in Dublin, where the arts of portrait-painting and engraving were carried to a high pitch of excellence.