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1954-55. Royal College of Art, London


Meets Francis Bacon forming a lifelong friendship. Dorothy Walker notes: 'The period of the fifties, not only in London but all over the Western world, was a period of abstract painting, of saturation tachisme or abstract expressionism when figurative painting was totally out of fashion and for the first time le Brocquy as an artist began to experience something of the isolation of his subjects. But he pursued his own preoccupation, as Francis Bacon did his, and their continued isolation as figurative painters in an abstract world no doubt helped to strengthen their interest in each other's work. Afterwards, in 1966, Bacon wrote of le Brocquy's work: "Louis le Brocquy belongs to a category of artists who have always existed - obsessed by figuration outside and on the other side of illustration - who are aware of the vast and potent possibilities of inventing ways by which fact and appearance can be reconjugated".'112 The artist sets to work on two ambitious compositions Children in a Wood (1954), praised by John Berger for its 'Poussin-like formality'113, and Lazarus (1954), a bridging work acknowledged as a crucial milestone in the transition from his 'Grey Period' paintings to the white-on-white 'Presences' of the late 1950s. According to John Russell: 'Le Brocquy at the time was still working in the ancient tradition of the "major painting": the work that summed up what a painter stood for and showed what he could do when at full stretch. He did this twice over in 1954, once with Children in a Wood, a free version of a much smaller painting by Nicholaes Maes [since reattributed to Cornelis Bisschop (1630-1674)] and again with Lazarus (1954), a painting which he used sketches made from Egyptian mummies.'114 Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith writes: 'Lazarus has been described as "that rare thing: an image at the cusp, that not only summarises what has gone before but points the way forward to everything that the artist has since achieved. The modernist awareness [of the paintings of the late'40s and early '50s] has been transfigured and expanded: it is this consciousness that has informed all of le Brocquy's subsequent painting". Le Brocquy acknowledges in retrospect that this work "points the way into the Presence paintings". He is at pains, however, to stress that his purpose in painting this image was not religious: "Originally I remember being moved by the story of Lazarus as a return ­ miraculous or otherwise ­ to a heightened awareness of his own being. I saw his head as a black hole of absence, stooped to regard his renewed physical presence". That this state of being is imagined as profoundly human rather than miraculous, mundane rather than unearthly, is highlighted by Study: Man Holding a Towel (1951) a mid-size work on paper in chalk and gouache produced three years earlier, on which Lazarus is clearly modeled ... Le Brocquy's emphasis on the fundamental humanity of his imagery even when overtly addressing religious themes is echoed in John Berger's assertion that the theme of all of le Brocquy's paintings at this time (and, one might add, at any time since) is the same, 'even if some are called Lazarus or Resurrection. It is ­ and thereis no way of putting it briefly except in a platitude ­ the mystery of the flesh; the nearness within a nervous system of pain and pleasure; the ambiguity between the body as a cage containing an animal and the body as an expendable servant of the heart; the fact that the same muscles move in the shoulder whether the arm is raised to caress or do violence.'115 The painting A Family (1951; NGI) included in British Paintings & Sculpture, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. Child with Doll (1949: Lithograph, ed. 20) included in III Mostra Internationale di Bianco e Nero, Lugano (March 1954). Further work included in Figures in their Setting, Contemporary Art Society, Walker Art Gallery, London (April 1954), Recent British Painting, Arts Council, UK tour (1954). Exhibition at Gimpel Fils (February 1955): Recent paintings and tapestries, fifty one works, including Ageing Man Washing (1954; Rugby Borough Council), Child with a Green Background (1954), Child Behind a Door (1954). Robert Melville writes in the Architectural Review: ''It may be that le Brocquy is a natural linear artist and cannot take paint beyond the point of brilliantly embellishing a drawing, but there are signs in his recent exhibition at Gimpels that the paint may get the upper hand, for it already blurs the division between being and non-being, and in a painting of a boy looking round a door, the paint turns the door-knob into a displaced ear ... Le Brocquy also exhibited several tapestries at Gimpel and the one named Garlanded Goat is, apart from a few of Lurçat's things, the most successful contemporary tapestry I have seen, and a superb latter-day example of the celtic art of surface decoration. Altogether this was an unusually delightful and exciting show.'116 The artist's association with tapestry designleads to a wider interest in applied art generally. Designs a series of screen-printed fabric furnishings commissioned by John McGuire Ltd, including Megalithic and Flight, exhibited by the Societé des Décorateurs, Grand Palais, Paris (May 1954). Designs large-scale carpet commissioned by Coras Tráchtála Teoranta, Dublin, inaugurating his collaboration with the hand-knotting craft of Donegal Carpets, Killybegs. Adapts his freehand drawings of the spiral pockmarks on the megaliths of Newgrange, Co. Meath, prized at the 1952 Fleischman International Carpet Design Competition, Detroit Institute of Art. Designs colour blended woven sisal carpeting for Tintawn Ltd. Becomes a co-founder with his friend the architect Michael Scott of Signa Ltd., Design Consultants (1954). The company promotes industrial design with pioneering effect in Ireland and England. Member of the Irish Council of Design (September 1963). Elected Fellow, Society of Industrial Artist's, London (1960); Fellow, Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, London (1974). Le Brocquy will be appointed an inaugural Board Member of Kilkenny Design Workshops (1964-77). Co-directors includeTerence Conran with whom he perceives the workshops as a potential Irish Bauhaus (a vision opposed by the director William Walshe). Le Brocquy writes: 'Art - official art - had long ago suffered the same social dislocation as other made things. Painting and sculpture were wholly wrenched away from other kinds of manufacture and preciously regarded as Fine Art. Art, which exists on all levels of consciousness or dies, died. In a sense, the great gesture of the Bauhaus can be expressed as a repudiation in positive terms of the exclusive concept of Fine Art. In it a sensuous unity was once again established, and art reasserted its sensible, inherent power within the varied structures of painting or chair, textile or building. This fusion took place in a temporary and local condition of white heat which the Bauhaus historically represents.'117 Appointed Visiting Tutor in Textile Design, Royal College of Art, London (1955-58). Works alongside Margaret Leischner, Head of the Weaving Department. The artist will be proposed the Professorship of the department by Sir Robin Darwin, an offer which he declines. In the summer of 1955, the artist is commissioned to tour Spain by Ambassador magazine on behalf of the British textile trade. Accompanied by the photographer Jay, travels to Granada, Cordoba, Segovia, Madrid, Seville, noting numerous impressions for textile designs. The artist's discovery there of a 'persistent visual tension', is translated into numerous patterns drawn from a wide range of sources, including cobblestones, sickles, stucco in village walls, and Azulejos in El Greco's Toledo house. Contributes Pattern in Contrast: Hot, Dull-Cool, Bright, 'a colour impression by Louis le Brocquy' (Ambassador, No 10, London 1955). Three leading textile firms issue the designs: David Whitehead, Furnishing prints; Seckers', woven silks, and Horrockses, Fashion prints, one famously worn by Princess Margaret. Inspired by the violent contrast of sun seen through lattice blinds in Andalusia, designs Sol Y Sombra (1955), the seventh tapestry to date, conceived to hang vertically or horizontally as evidenced by date and signature. Identified as le Brocquy's only abstract work, the design coincides with a momentous change about to take place in his painting.


112 Dorothy Walker, Louis le Brocquy (Dublin: Ward River Press 1981; London: Hodder & Stoughton 1982) p. 28. Reproduced Louis le Brocquy: A Retrospective Selection of Oil Paintings 1939-1966 (Dublin: The Municipal Gallery of Modern Art; Belfast: Ulster Museum, November 1966 - January 1967), p. 1.
113 John Berger, 'Louis le Brocquy', The New Statesman (London, February 12, 1955).
114 John Russell, 'Introduction', Dorothy Walker, Louis le Brocquy (Dublin: Ward River Press 1981; London: Hodder & Stoughton 1982) p. 9-10.
115 Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith, 'The Human Image Paintings of Louis le Brocquy', additional notes. Sotheby's quotation: The Irish Sale, lot 70 {London, 13 May 2004) p. 114. John Berger quotation: 'Louis le Brocquy', The New Statesman (London, February 12, 1955).
116 Robert Melville, 'Exhibitions', Architectural Review (London, April 1955).
117 Louis le Brocquy, 'Art and Manufacture', Irish Times (Dublin, 5 April 1956).



Tired Child, 1954, oil on canvas, 61.2 x 51 cm
Ulster Museum, Belfast

(Photograph reproduced
with the kind permission of
the Trustees of the National Museums
& Galleries of Northern Ireland)







Children in a Wood, 1954
oil on canvas, 102 x 127 cm







Lazarus, 1954
oil on canvas, 175.5 x 119.5 cm