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1944. The native influence
The artist's interest in early Christian, Celtic, and Neolithic carvings opens new fields of exploration in the work. Paints Classic Theme III (1944; not extant), according to the artist, in reaction to the romantic expressionism of Jack B. Yeats. The shallow space and sculptural forms owe much to the artist's study of the compact figures on the base of the Moone High Cross, Moone Abbey churchyard, Co. Kildare. The Mediaeval sculpture of Ireland will exercise a powerful fascination at the time, as the artist explains: 'The carvings excited me greatly - in particular the triangular heads of thetwelve apostles at the foot of the Kildare MooneCross, that crept into the heads of the Tinker series.'45 Discovers the three-faced Corleck Head from Co. Cavan (2nd Century BC), the multiple carved heads adorning the Romanesque doorways at Dysert O'Dea, Co. Clare and Clonfert cathedral, Co. Galway, of central importance in later work. Earnán O'Malley assesses this period in Horizon Magazine: 'During the war, Ireland, cut off from outside activity, was driven back to her sea boundary. Economically the country had to become self-supporting and in this attempt a new strength and assurance was created, reflected by added interest in painting and in music. For painters, this shutting away of the outside world tended to dim foreign impact ... But one result of this withdrawal was that artists had more time to assess themselves and to develop their own personal contribution. Some, for the first time, discovered the influences and creative possibilities of their own landscape; le Brocquy was amongst these.'46 Dorothy Walker remarks: 'One of Louis le Brocquy's earliest interests, which has remained with him all his life, was the neolithic tumulus at Newgrange, Co. Meath [c.3200 BC] ... Le Brocquy's interest in Newgrange has resulted, directly, in handsome drawings of the carved motifs on the great stones, but indirectly, the tomb has affected all his artistic approach being a metaphor of his life's work, embodying that paradox and ambivalence which are characteristic of the Irish mind.'47 Regarded by the artist as of comparable significance to theAcropolis, he notes: 'It was my mother, Sybil le Brocquy, who originally told me ... of Newgrange, mysterious, still unregarded and as yet undisturbed. Entered by candlelight, its pocked engravings - for the most part indecipherable - prompted me to make freehand drawings of them in an attempt to follow and possibly learn something through the graphic nature of megalithic thought.'48 From this experience of wonder, le Brocquy says: 'Since I was a boy I suppose I've always been curious about otherness, imagining for instance how our family cocker spaniel might perceive things - or Cro-Magnon man, for that matter, gazing at the night sky from the comparative safety of his cave dwelling, reaching out towards the limits of his environment with no knowledge whatever - just pure wonder ... Well, from that human capacity to wonder sprang the unprecedented flowering of Magdalenian art, and I believe that to this day it is that same wonder which produces all great art.'49 The artist discovers the Western Seaboard through his friends Ernie O'Malley in Mayo, Desmond Williams in Connemara (where he draws a mural at 'Banab' Emlaghmore, Ballyconneely), and his colleague, Derek Hill in Achill, thence to Clare Island, home of the Elizabethan queen, Gráinne Umhaill. Makes numerous sketches and watercolours, including Nightfall on a Connemara Bog; Bog Stones, Connemara; Stones, McDara' Island, Drying Kelp. James White notes: 'Ireland had its effect upon his vision, as well as upon his consciousness ... The curiously liquid light of the West of Ireland affected Louis le Brocquy's whole vision, and its influence can still be seen in his love for greenish shades, in his soft colouring and in a certain haziness which, in water-colour especially, tones down all his contrasts.'50 Earnán O'Malley writes in Horizon: 'Louis le Brocquy wandered through Connemara, a gaunt, ragged district of mountain form, freckled lakes, broken bouldered slopes bedazzled with light and serrated with an edge of sea. The sense of formal composition and defined pattern met with in French landscape and elsewhere is seldom seen here. Harsh light, which strongly emphasises form and structure, is absent also. Instead there is an untamed country lacking in pattern, whose informality makes it easier for people and their world to dovetail and create a mood, and whose elusive colours merge and orchestrate in atmospheric softness. For le Brocquy, as for others, the land was an absorbing challenge, which for a time replaced continental conceptions of paint craft, and demanded expression in a personal idiom. Famine Cottages, Connemara (1944), shows his feeling for this land as an emotional concept of colour and form. White-walled cottages, indefinite now in reduced form as hollow wind-worn shells, slowly sink back into the soil from which they have come. Pink hills relieve the contrast of upright house fragments, islands are suggested in indefinite distance, and amber seaweed mist echoes colour and symbolises the sea edge with the dependence of people on it as an alternative source of livelihood. Shawled women jut out of darker paint passages in the foreground as if they were worn stone shapes. An inverted tarred curragh overhanging a path seems an earth shape of bridge with flowing water, and a muffled green landscape threads in and out through the variegated colour planes of white wall shadows.'51 From this landscape of desolate ruins will emerge le Brocquy's 'Tinker' paintings to take centre stage the following year (Summer 1945).
45 Statement made to the editor, January 2005.
46 Earnán O'Malley, 'Louis le Brocquy', Horizon, Vol. XIV, No. 79 (London, July 1946). Reproduced in Dorothy Walker, Louis le Brocquy (Dublin: Ward River Press 1981; London: Hodder & Stoughton 1982), p. 71.
47 Dorothy Walker, 'Louis le Brocquy', exhibition catalogue Six Artists From Ireland, (Dublin: Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon, Cultural Relations Committee Deptartment Foreign Affaires, European tour, 1983), p. 35.
48 Louis le Brocquy, Irish Art Historical Studies - in honour of Peter Harbison, Colum Hourihane, ed. (Department of Art and Archaeology Princeton University and Four Courts Press, 2004), p. 5.
49 Statement made to the editor, August 2005.
50 James White, 'Contemporary Irish Artists (VI): Louis le Brocquy', Envoy, vol. 2, no. 6, (Dublin, May 6, 1950), p. 56.
51 Earnán O'Malley, 'Louis le Brocquy', Horizon, Vol. XIV, No. 79 (London, July 1946). Reproduced in Dorothy Walker, Louis le Brocquy (Dublin: Ward River Press 1981; London: Hodder & Stoughton 1982), p. 72.
Travelling Man in Connemara, 1947
Pen, ink, watercolour, gouqche on paper
17.8 x 12.4 cm
Detail of the twelve apostles
foot of the Moone High Cross Moone
Abbey churchyard, County Kildare