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1967-68. Táin Bó Cuailnge


The artist is commissioned by the publisher Liam Miller to illustrate Thomas Kinsella's inspired version of The Táin Bó Cuailnge, the dramatic record of Ireland's proto-historic past. Ailbhe Ní Bhriain notes: 'The Táin Bó Cuailnge - táin, meaning the gathering of people for a cattle raid - is a prose epic with verse passages and forms the centrepiece of the cycle of Ulster heroic stories. It tells of the exploits of King Conchobar and his chief warrior Cúchulainn ("The Hound of Ulster") and of the invasion of Ulster by Queen Medb of Connacht in an attempt to capture the Brown Bull of Cuailgne. Dating as far back as the twelfth century in manuscript form, this legend has been treated both academically by scholars and linguists and romantically by such Revival writers as Yeats and Lady Gregory. The Dolmen Edition of the saga was to give, in Kinsella's words, the first "living version of the story", a version true to its blunt and brutal Gaelic character.'173 Paints several hundred calligraphic brush drawings over a period of six months. The artist notes: 'Any graphic accompaniment to a story which owes its existence to the memory and concern of a people over some twelve hundred years, should decently be as impersonal as possible. The illustrations of early Celtic manuscripts express not personality but temperament. They provide not graphic comment on the text but an extension of it. Their means are not available to us today - either temperamentally or technically - but certain lessons may be learned from them relevant to the present work. In particular they suggest that graphic images, if any, should growspontaneously and even physically from the matter of the printed text. If these images - these marks in printer's ink - form an extension to Kinsella's Táin, they are a humble one. It is as shadows thrown bythe text that they derive their substance.'174 The illustrations will establish le Brocquy's reputation as an intrepretive draftman of considerable originality. Thomas Kinsella will give this assessment of his collaborator: 'There are certain staying qualities that help an artist to major achievement. The gift of concentration is one (in the sense of economy as well as of intensity), and so is steady energy. Le Brocquy has these qualities to a degree unique among Irish painters or designers since the death of Jack B. Yeats. He also has that individual force, stemming from tireless curiosity, which gives coherence to a career - the kind of force that insists on artistic growth, or change, and ensures that any stimulus, however seemingly random, finds a central response.'175 Le Brocquy begins a series of 'reconstructed' heads of William Blake, Patrick Heron, Michael Scott, Antonio Saura, including Reconstructed Head of an Irish Martyr, a tribute to Oliver Plunkett (1967; Hirshhorn Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC). According to Anne Crookshank: 'The coloured grounds were of short duration and he returned to the purity and stillness of his flat whites, a colour whose infinite variety he understands better than any other living artist.'176 In December 1967, in face of the tragic death of his wife's sister and brother-in-Law in an air crash over the Andes, paints Young Woman with Cut Flowers (1967-70; A.R. 240), Woman Grieving (1967; A.R. 198), Image of Anne, study in absence (1967; A.R. 197). These powerful evocations of death revive the deep impact made on the artist by the Celto-Ligurian vestiges at Entremont near Aix-en-Provence. The series culminates in the large-scale Stele: Hommage à Entremont (1968; A.R. 219, Fondation Maeght, St Paul), recording the artist's lasting emotion at the destruction of this ancient centre by the Romans in 123 B. C. John Montague writes: 'One sees what struck le Brocquy with the force of illumination, a stone pillar ornamented with heads engraved in groups of three, each group arranged differently. It is one of the pillars from what is called "The Hall of the Dead" at Entremont, where ancestors and warriors were invested with oracular powers. So the cult of the severed head reverberates all the way from the river Sepik in New Guinea to our own civilisation.'177 Exhibition at Gimpel Fils, London (October 1968), Gimpel & Hanover Galerie, Zürich (January 1969): Recent Paintings, forty four works, including Study for Head of Keats (1968; A.R. 206), Reconstructed Head of John Montague (1968; A.R. 205). Richard Seddon writes in The Birmingham Post: 'It has been two years since Louis le Brocquy, one of the most famous of living painters in Ireland, had a one-man exhibition in London; though in the interval he has had a big official show in Dublin ... He is denying the erroneous view of space as being "around solids (in this case the "head" feature). He blurs the form to obviate its interruption of the space continuum, which exists around it within it and through it. He only stops short of dissolving the form to the point of extinction, like the Cheshire cat. Cézanne did it with apples; and Picasso did it with a triangulated Mr. Kahnweiler. Like Picasso and Bacon, le Brocquy adds a frightening and passionate symbolism to Cezanne's detachment.'178


173 Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, 'Le Livre d'Artiste: Louis le Brocquy and The Tåin (1969)' New Hibernia Review, 5.1 (2001).
174 Louis le Brocquy, 'Artist's Note', The Táin (Mountrath, Co. Laois: Dolmen IX, The Dolmen Press 1969), colophon.
175 Thomas Kinsella, 'Louis le Brocquy', exhibition catalogue: In association with ROSC '71 The Irish Imagination 1959-1971 (Dublin: Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, October 23 - 31 December 1971), p. 78.
176 Anne Crookshank, introduction, exhibition catalogue, Louis le Brocquy and the Celtic Head Image (New York: State Museum September 26 - 29 November 1981; Boston College; Massachusetts, 1981), p. 28.
177 John Montague, 'Primal Scream, The Later le Brocquy', The Arts in Ireland, Vol. 2. No I (Dublin, 1973), p. 9-10.
178 Richard Seddon, 'le Brocquy paintings', Birmingham Post (October 9, 1968).







Entremont, 1968
oil on canvas, 195 x 130 cm, AR219
Fondation Maeght, France