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One man's eye:
Enrique Juncosa. Louis le Brocquy's 'Children in a Wood', I (1988)
Director Irish Museum of Modern Art
This painting belongs to a group of paintings, the Procession paintings, which were made in the 1980s and 1990s developing two early subjects. One of the subjects, Procession with Lilies, derives from a photograph from the 1930s, by an unknown photographer, published in the Evening Herald, and showing a group of Dublin schoolgirls returning from the Church of Adam and Eve, giggling, and showing the lilies they are carrying to the camera. Le Brocquy, who has kept this image over the years, made first a small study in 1962, to return to the subject in a larger scale in the 1980s. The other group is the one titled Children in a Wood - of which the painting illustrated here is the first and considered one of the best by the artist - which derives from another image, in this case a painting formerly attributed to the Dutch master Nicolas Maes (1634-1693), and entitled Boys Playing with a Goat. This painting depicts a joyful pagan happening, which is probably an episode from the life of Bacchus. Similarly, Le Brocquy made an early painting of this subject in 1954, and again developed it further in the 1980s. All the Procession paintings where the subject of a book published by Gandon Editions in Cork in 1994, and years later of an exhibition, which took place in the Crawford Art Gallery, also in Cork, and which later on traveled to the Taylor Galleries in Dublin (2003).
Children in a Wood I, 1988
oil on canvas, 114 x 146 cm, A.R.558. Irish Museum of Modern Art
The two cycles which conform the Procession paintings are very well known not only because of its quality but also because they differ significantly from what it is the most common subject for Le Brocquy, and which is the figure – or the head as its surrogate – in spiritual or existential isolation. It is true that their images have something of the depiction of an apparition, and also of a static drama, as Le Brocquy himself has suggested being interviewed by George Morgan for the book mentioned, as one could probably say of his famous Head paintings, but the paintings to which we are referring to, depict groups of people, have a horizontal format – the Heads are vertical – and resemble classical reliefs. Le Brocquy’s work has been sometime associated to Bacon and Giacometti, artists which continue somehow the tradition initiated by Expressionism. I see his work however, belonging to an analytical tradition, which starts with Cézanne and is further developed by Cubism. This is certainly suggested by the Procession works, whose palette is related to the late Cézanne. Also the classical subject of the Children in a Wood works suggests Poussin, whose orderly classicism influenced Picasso. Le Brocquy’s images here, in any case, offer a static vision of movement. Lines are repeated rhythmically creating the illusion that we are seeing between things, entering possibly into another realm of reality and experience. The characters in the painting are whitish, almost transparent and seem to radiate light or even to dissolve in it or by it. More than depicting the movement of the characters, the artist seems to focus in the analysis of the act of seeing itself, and how this is affected by light, movement and its perception. Le Brocquy is not concerned here with mere representation but with the nature of painting itself. His images do not stand on the background but rather melt in it, underlying that he is dealing with vision and memory, the difficulty of grasping a moment, and how to convey these complex issues on a flat surface.
This work is one of the major works by Louie le Brocquy in the collection of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and was acquired thanks to the generosity of the artist and Brain Ranalow.