Since Ireland’s ‘tiger economy’ hit the buffers a few years ago, Dublin’s art world has also suffered. However, this has not dampened the artistic spirit, and Irish artists have continued to produce quality work, resulting in a backlog which galleries are keen to move, often at favourable prices. Meanwhile, institutional galleries and museums continue to display their impressive collections, with some of them undergoing extensive recent refurbishment.
Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane has one of Ireland’s foremost collections of modern and contemporary art. A classic municipal gallery in atmosphere, its permanent displays are complemented by temporary exhibitions. A highlight is the London studio of Dublin-born Francis Bacon, the entire messy contents of which were packed up after his death, shipped back to his home town and reconstructed in minute detail. A video loop shows an interview with Melvyn Bragg in which Bacon describes his studio as “kind of a dump…I work much better in chaos. Chaos for me brings images.” www.hughlane.ie
Housed in the magnificent, 17th century Royal Hospital building, the Irish Museum of Modern Art is home to the national collection of modern and contemporary art by Irish and international artists with an emphasis on work from the 1940s onwards. The spacious grounds include a formal garden, a meadow and a medieval cemetery. www.imma.ie
The National Gallery of Ireland has examples of every European art school, including an extensive collection of Irish works. Highlights are works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Bonnard, Sisley and Sir John Lavery. Look out for Caravaggio’s ‘The Taking of Christ’, the so-called ‘lost painting’ rediscovered in Dublin after being missing for two centuries. You can download a free Masterpieces app from the gallery’s website which uses image recognition technology to enables visitors to interact directly with 80 works for additional content and audio. www.nationalgallery.ie
Housed in the historic Collins Barracks, National Museum of Ireland Decorative Arts annex include decorative and household items such as crystal, silverware, glassware, ceramics and furniture. There is also an extensive collection of Asian art donated by the Dublin-both insurance magnate, Albert M. Bender, and an impressive section devoted to the Irish-born architect and designer, Eileen Gray (1878-1976). Relatively unheralded compared to contemporaries such as Le Corbusier, Bauhaus members and Frank Lloyd Wright, Gray designed houses and interiors in a timeless style. Her innovative Bibendum Chair is one of the 20th century’s most recognisable furniture designs. www.museum.ie
The artist-led Royal Hibernian Academy has been beautifully refurbished, resulting in spacious, airy galleries ideal for displaying the full gamut of Irish art. Different sections are dedicated to various subjects and disciplines, such as portraiture, landscape/cityscape and photography. Overall the standard is hugely impressive. www.royalhibernianacademy.ie
Pretty much a ‘must see’ on any art tour of Dublin is the exquisitely illustrated ninth century illuminated manuscript the Book of Kells. Containing some of Ireland’s earliest artworks, it can be seen in the Old Library of Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest university, where a permanent exhibition entitled Turning Darkness into Light explains its background story (www.bookofkells.ie). While on the 40-acre Trinity College campus, drop into the Douglas Hyde Gallery. In contrast to the ancient Book of Kells, this contemporary gallery named after the first President of Ireland hosts shows by contemporary international and emerging Irish artists (www.douglashydegallery.com).
Artists are permitted by license to display and sell work off the railings around Merrion Square (where you’ll also find Oscar Wilde’s statue) on weekends and any day in December. Each artist has a set ‘patch’ marked by a brass number embedded in the pavement. All the work must be original and sold by the artists personally or a close relative and none of it is available in shops or galleries.