Known throughout the world for its steady stream of creativity, Ireland has made huge contributions to music, theatre, film – and, of course, visual art. A healthy dose of some of the world’s most renowned artists have excelled in all genres, from portraiture, landscapes and illustration to mural, photography and video. You’ll find many of their works in Dublin’s top art museums and galleries along with the best emerging Irish artists.
Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane Based on an original collection donated by its founder, art dealer, collector and gallery director Hugh Lane (he held the first exhibition of Irish Art in 1904 in London and acquired for the gallery the first Impressionist paintings in any public collection in Britain and Ireland), one of Ireland’s foremost collections of modern and contemporary art has grown to include over 2,000 works by leading national and international artists.
A classic municipal gallery in atmosphere, its displays include The Lane Legacy exhibition, which celebrates the founder with works such asMusic in the Tuileries Gardens by Manet, Lavacourt under Snow by Monet, Beach Scene by Degas and The Sleeping Princess by Edward Burne-Jones. Permanent displays are complemented by temporary exhibitions.
For many visitors the highlight is the London studio of the Dublin-born artist Francis Bacon, the entire contents of which were packed up after his death, shipped back to his home town and reconstructed in minute detail.
In a revealing South Bank Show interview with Melvyn Bragg shown on a video loop Bacon describes his studio as “kind of a dump…I work much better in chaos. Chaos for me brings images.” You can also view a digital archive of over 7,000 items found in his studio. www.hughlane.ie
Irish Museum of Modern Art Housed in the magnificent, 17th century Royal Hospital building in the suburb of Kilmainham, the IMMA is home to the National Collection of modern and contemporary art. The collection of over 3,500 works emphasises art produced post-1940 and features pieces by many significant artists such as Marina Abramovic, Louise Bourgeois, Robert Rauschenberg, Sol LeWitt and Roy Lichtenstein. www.imma.ie
National Gallery of Ireland Opened in 1864, the gallery has examples of every European school of oil paintings, watercolours, drawings, prints and sculpture and including an extensive collection of Irish works, notably some remarkable pieces by the Expressionist Jack Butler Yeats.
Some of the highlights include Picasso’s Still Life with a Mandolin, Gainsborough’s The Cottage Girl, Renoir’s Young Woman in White Reading, Juan Gris’ Pierrot and Pieter Brueghel Peasant Wedding. There are also works by Van Gogh, Monet, Bonnard, Sisley, Goya, Degas, Matisse, Lavery, Vermeer, Rembrandt and Caravaggio (The Taking of Christ, the so-called ‘lost painting’ rediscovered in Dublin’s Society of Jesus after its whereabouts remained unknown for about 200 years). www.nationalgallery.ie
National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts Housed in the historic Collins Barracks, the museum’s collection includes encompasses silver, ceramics, glassware, furniture, clothing, jewellery and coins. There are also examples of folk life and costume.
A section called Reconstructed Rooms shows four centuries of furnishings: 17th century oak panelling, refined Georgian splendour, 19th century high style and 20th century Irish modernism focussing on some of Ireland’s best furniture designers from 1900 to the present.
The museum also has an impressive section devoted to the work of the Irish-born architect and designer, Eileen Gray (1878-1976). Relatively unheralded compared to contemporaries such as Le Corbusier (an admirer of her work), the Bauhaus movement and Frank Lloyd Wright, Gray was mainly known as a lacquer specialist, but went on to design interiors in a timeless style. In her Paris retail shop, which she opened in 1922, she designed and made every item on sale herself. The design of the facade was her first foray into architecture.
Other exhibits in the museum include decorative and household items such as crystal, silverware, glassware and ceramics. There is also an extensive collection of Asian art donated by the Dublin-both insurance magnate, Albert M. Bender. The museum shares its historic premises with a museum of military history. www.museum.ie
Royal Hibernian Academy Located in the beautiful Georgian streetscape of Ely Place, this artist-led organisation founded in 1823 has undergone a beautiful refurbishment in recent years, resulting in spacious, airy galleries ideal for displaying the full and impressive gamut of Irish art.
Different sections are dedicated to various subjects and disciplines, such as portraiture, landscape/cityscape and photography. The Annual Exhibition at the RHA is the largest and longest running open submission exhibition in Ireland, while the ground floor Ashford Gallery is designed to introduce emerging artists to collectors and test their commercial viability. www.rhagallery.ie
A good place to find independent galleries is the busy commercial area immediately south of the Trinity College campus, where several streets lined with some of Dublin’s finest Georgian buildings are home to a clutch of galleries showing emerging and established Irish artists along with international work.
The Doorway Gallery specialises in fine art paintings by Irish and international artists. Recognising that art is not a spontaneous buy, the gallery puts a lot of emphasis on familiarising the public with emerging artists, for example through its Getting to Know series of videos and Facebook Q&As showing artists at work in their studio, discussing their process and offering an insight into the ‘journey’ a painting takes before it reaches the gallery setting. www.thedoorwaygallery.com
As well as featuring established and emerging Irish artists, Gormleys Fine Art shows work by important international contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol, Banksy, Damian Hirst, Robert Indiana and Keith Haring. A rear room devoted to sculpture is filled with natural light and the sounds from the water feature make it a lovely space in which to appreciate the work. www.gormleys.ie
Round the corner from the National Gallery, the Oriel Gallery deals in painting and sculpture from the late 19th century to the present. The oldest independent gallery in Ireland, its name by happy coincidence translates from the Irish as ‘window’ and from the Welsh as ‘gallery’. www.theoriel.com
The Molesworth Gallery stages eight solo and two curated group exhibitions a year. Work by an impressive stable of artists includes Michael Beirne’s other-worldly mixed media compositions, Francis Matthews’ Hopper-like street scenes and John Kindness’s genre-defying images recalling classical art. www.molesworthgallery.com
Trinity College Some of Ireland’s earliest artworks can be seen in the Old Library of Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest university, where The Book of Kells is on display in a permanent exhibition entitled Turning Darkness into Light, which explains the background story of the exquisitely illustrated 9th century illuminated manuscript. www.tcd.ie/visitors/book-of-kells
At one entrance to the 40-acre Trinity College campus is the Douglas Hyde Gallery. Named after the first President of Ireland, it hosts shows by contemporary international and emerging Irish artists. www.douglashydegallery.com
The campus is also the site of Sphere Within Sphere, one of a series of remarkable bronze sculptures by the Italian artist Arnaldo Pomodoro depicting an enormous globe with a crack on the surface revealing another globe inside. Versions of it can also be seen in about fifteen other locations around the world, including the Vatican Museums, the UN Headquarters in New York and Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.
Merrion Square For over 25 years local artists have been permitted by license to display and sell work every Sunday year-round off the railings around Merrion Square, with each artist allocated 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. Merrion Square is one of Dublin’s largest and grandest Georgian squares. On three sides are Georgian Houses and on the other the garden of Leinster House (formerly the parliament building of the Republic of Ireland), the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery. A statue of Oscar Wilde lounges on a large rock in the central park. www.merrionart.com
Temple Bar Most visitors to Dublin will eventually make their way to the Temple Bar district, a square-mile maze of cobbled streets and the epicentre of the city’s legendary pub scene. However, Temple Bar is also home to a number of art centres and artist-run galleries within a short walk of each other. Look out for: the Gallery of Photography, the national centre for photography in Ireland, www.galleryofphotography.ie; the National Photographic Archive, which houses the photographic collection of the National Library of Ireland, the world’s largest collection of Irish photographs, www.nli.ie; the Graphic Studio Gallery, which has the largest stock of original prints in Ireland, www.graphicstudiodublin.com; the Project Arts Centre, a multi-arts venue and the busiest in Ireland with some 600 events a year; and the Temple Bar Gallery & Studios, an artists’ studio complex and contemporary gallery, www.templebargallery.com.
From a series which also includes Liverpool, Edinburgh and Cambridge, The Dublin Art Book lets us see the city through the eyes of over 50 artists, who have captured its unique character in a beautiful collection of contemporary images in a wide variety of styles and media. (Ed. Emma Bennett, pub. UIT Cambridge, £14.99, www.uit.co.uk)
*Video artist Duncan Campbell won the Turner Prize in 2014 for his video piece It for Others.