Dr. Margarita Cappock
t: +353 1 222 5557
Dr. Margarita Cappock
t: +353 1 222 5557
LOUIS LE BROCQUY (1916-2012)
Beloved by the art world and public alike Louis le Brocquy’s oeuvre has made an indelible mark on the identity of Irish modern art. Le Brocquy was just twenty-four years old when Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane bought his painting, Southern Window, 1939. This acquisition heralded the beginning of a longstanding dialogue between le Brocquy and the gallery, one which was cultivated and expanded upon through further acquisitions as well as several exhibitions dedicated to his singular output (a retrospective held in 1996 as well as three solo shows in 1978, 1992 and 2007).
Le Brocquy was a self-taught artist whose corpus of work is indebted to his study of the Old Masters, in particular, Velázquez and Goya. He also admired Whistler, Manet and Degas. Although early works underscore his ability to paint in line with the academic tradition he later eschewed the pursuit of verisimilitude in favour of a deeper, psychological exploration of the human condition. The theme of inescapable human isolation within society is ever-present in his work and is expressed through the isolated figure. In Southern Window one notes the beginnings of this concern. This work was painted in Menton, France in 1939 and was inspired by Edouard Manet's Le Balcon (1868-69; Musée d'Orsay). The theme of isolation is evident once again In Child in a Yard, 1953. The figure of the child in motion is painted in an almost pure pigment which contrasts unnervingly with the dark of the grim surroundings to create a mysterious sense of good and evil, darkness and light, innocence and experience.
Breathing new life into portraiture Louis le Brocquy’s approach, with its emblematic focus solely on the head, uniquely re-imagined the possibilities and overcame limitations of the genre. The source of inspiration for his portraiture came from an encounter with Polynesian skulls in the Musée de l'Homme, Paris; it was not only their visual appearance that piqued his interest but also their ritualistic importance in providing access for the living to the spirits of their ancestors. Homage to Clonfert, 1965 which is part of his Ancestral Heads series of the 1960s depicts several heads emerging from within a white matrix of painted ground. Spectral and sparse this multilayered painting lyrically captures the complexity of human beings while evoking not only the spirit of the individuals but also a shared past. The heads are depicted collectively in a rigid diagonal grid pattern as they are at the Clonfert Cathedral in Galway, but at the same time they remain isolated from each other. They seem to stand as visual embodiments of the ancient Celtic belief which purports that the head is a magic box in which the spirit resides. The artist noted: “enter that box, enter behind the billowing curtain of the face and you have the whole landscape of the spirit.”
The same sparseness and pale white ground to be found in this work is equally present in his piece entitled Isolated Being, 1962 where again le Brocquy lays an emphasis on the psychological in efforts to approach a symbolic representation of humanity. Le Brocquy exquisitely captures the light and energy of the figure, reducing the human form and conjuring a presence more so than a reality. The inconsistency of the paint creates spaces, which reaffirms an idea of transience. The artist notes: “Contrary to the generally held view, I think that painting is not in any direct sense a means of communication or a means of self-expression. For me at any rate, it is a groping towards an image. When you are painting you are trying to discover, to uncover, to reveal. I sometimes think of the activity of painting as a kind of archaeology- an archaeology of the spirit.” In these later works le Brocquy has succeeded in making tangible the intangible and potently evoking a sense of the spirit.