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1940-41. Return to Ireland
Establishes studio, top flat, 16 Upper Fitzwilliam Street, Dublin (winter 1940). A self-declared untested conscientious objector, condemns the Nazi's attitude towards art and artists in his review of Niklaus Pevsner's Academies of Art Past and Present.22 Blacklisted by the German Embassy, Dublin. The artist recalls: 'We were thrown back on ourselves. I used to visit Jack Yeats regularly in his Fitzwilliam Square drawing-room studio and sometimes saw that rose fixed to his easel ... I still remember him telling me, "pay no attention to adverse criticism. The true artist has vision. The critic has only an opinion".23 Paints A Picnic (1940), modelled by Sedra Osbourne, Arthur Osbourne andPatsy Stoney, depicting the sitters withdrawn one from another around a bare tablecloth. Inspired by Degas' Bain de mer: Petite fille peignée par sa bonne (c.1877; Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane), and Ukiyo-e woodblock prints (in which the image is implied beyond the outer frame), the painting's almost surreal aspect heralds much of the artist's subsequent work. The critic Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith observes: 'For, in hindsight, the investigation of interpersonal relationships appears to have been destined from the start to be subordinated in le Brocquy's work to the exploration of the individual in isolation. ... A pronounced tendency toward solipsism is evident almost from the very beginning, as can be seen as early as 1940 in the painting entitled 'A Picnic' in which three figures, far from enjoying the communal meal indicated by the work's title, turn moodily away from each other in melancholic introspection.'24 Le Brocquy explains: 'I now see that, in this work, I was already groping towards that invisible reality that lies within us - our most profound reality I imagine - the spirit, the inner consciousness of the individual human being.'25 Prompted by Michael Peppiatt to comment on his religious beliefs, he declares: 'I have no defined religious views. I am what you might call an agnostic, someone who tries to keep his window onto reality as widely open as possible. I was tremendously struck, you know, by something Erwin Schrödinger the physicist, said to me as a student almost forty years ago in Dublin. It was to the effect that matter could not be destroyed - modified beyond all recognition; perhaps, transformed into energy, for example - but never destroyed. Schödinger also believed that the spirit, or consciousness, was indestructible, too. I must say I remain impressed by that thought.'26 According to Anne Madden: 'Louis came to know Schrödinger quite well, visiting him and his family at his home in Kincora Road, Clontarf. He learnt much from this physicist-philosopher and was more impressed by his metaphysical ideas than was Julian Huxley, who wrote the introduction to What is Life? [The artist will attend Erwin Schödinger's famous series of lectures at Trinity College (February 1943)] Louis was moved by Schrödinger's humour, his courtesy, his humanity and the extraordinary formation of his head, "impressive as that of an African elephant".'27 Le Brocquy's fascination with the head image, later to become emblematic of his work, shows early intimations in 1940. Alistair Smith, Director of the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, observes: 'The reconstruction of the exact chronology of influences on le Brocquy's Heads is perhaps not as crucial as the recognition that he had always been preconditionned to exercise his imagination in this particular way. As early as 1940, he had been commissioned to make drawings of brain operations for a book to be published by the Dublin surgeon, Adam A McConnell. Most satisfying is the idea that the partof the brain which he was employed to draw, the pituitary gland, was one which it was impossible to photograph at the time. It was, therefore, only available to the artist. Le Brocquy's interest and the twenty drawings he made pre-empted his years of painting the head.'28 The commission will prove to be revelatory according to the artist: 'The discovery of the pituitary gland gave me an extraordinary insight within the invisible aspect of the individual human being. Its setting alone - central within the skull - is immensly impressive. As I remember, this small pea-sized gland sits on its boney plinth (known as the "Turkish Saddle') from behind outstretch two delicate wings of bone as if to emphasise the importance of its hidden existence.'29 An earlier encounter with medical proceedings related to the head preoccupation, will profoundly affect le Brocquy as a young boy. Anne Madden recounts: 'Louis remembers an event which happened when he was six or seven: his maternal grandfather, 'Pop' Staunton, enveloped in flames in his beloved Aram Lodge, out of his mind, shouting from the window at a would-be rescuer ... [later] His entire head was swathed in bandages, much to the dismay of young Louis whose little brother, less taken aback by his grandfather's distressing appearace, bravely visited him in his room.'30 The experience will imprint a vivid memory of his 'shock at the disappearance of the head entirely covered in white bandages.'31 Le Brocquy's interest in colour theory, including Rimington's 'colour chords'32, informs a number of works at the time: 'I became interested in the emotional effect of colour, particularly in the relationship of the chromatic scale in music to the twelve subdivisions of the primary colours, red, yellow and blue. I still have some remaining charts I made at the National Library in which I attempted to relate musical notes to their corresponding colours by means of their comparative vibrations. I was fascinated by the possibilities of reconstructing musical chords in pure colour. In paintings I made at the time, such as A Study in Minor Key (1940) and Spanish Shawl, a study in White (1941), I did in fact manage to incorporate major and minor "colour chords" for their emotional resonance.'33 Meets the composer Frederick May, contributes Music in Painting (Dublin Magazine, October 1941), later addressing his theories on colour interrelation to the Dublin University Experimental Science Association, Trinity College (October 1943). Paints Girl in White (1941; Ulster Museum), inspired by the Hashira-e (pillar-print). Modelled by Kathleen Ryan, a Titian-haired beauty who will star in Carol Reed's film the Odd Man Out (1947), the work is entered into the RHA exhibition of that year, attracting a salvo of official portrait commissions, all turmed down by an artist determined to avoid such a career. The Evening Mail reports: "The Girl in White" in this years Academy has already been purchased by the Haverty Trust. This remarkable study was the chief topic of conversation at the academy opening. Mr le Brocquy's work has attracted considerable attention in the world of art. His beautiful oil painting "The Girl in Grey" was one of the most talked of exhibits in last year's Academy, and a smaller oil "Southern Window" also exhibited last year was purchased by the Haverty Trust.'34 Inspired by the Monte Carlo Ballets Russes attended two years earlier in France, turns to theatre design, including costumes for Blanaid Salkeld's Scarecrow over the Corn (Gate Theatre, Dublin, December 1941). Paints Belfast Refugees (1941; Waterford Municipal Art Collection) informed by his experience as a voluntary ambulance driver for the Irish Red Cross at Mespil Road, Dublin. Based on Japanese woodblock prints in which the figures are conjoined as a single plastic entity, the composition may be seen to reflect the comparative isolation of artists in contemporary irish society. Separation from Jean Stoney (Dublin, 1941), divorce (London 1948).
22 Niklaus Pevsner, 'Academies of Art Past and Present', The Dublin Magazine (October 1940).
23 Louis le Brocquy, notes, Louis le Brocquy, The Inner Human Reality, Film documentary directed by Joe Mulholland, RTE 1, Arts Lives, 21 February 2006, 22.15pm.
24 Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith, 'The Human Image Paintings of Louis le Brocquy', 2003
25 Louis le Brocquy, notes, Louis le Brocquy, The Inner Human Reality, Film documentary directed by Joe Mulholland, RTE 1, Arts Lives, 21 February 2006, 22.15pm.
26 Michael Peppiatt, 'Interview with Louis le Brocquy', Art International, Lugano, Vol. XXIII/7, October 1979, p. 66. Reproduced in Louis le Brocquy, The Head Image (Kinsale: Gandon Editions, 1996), p. 25.
27 Anne Madden le Brocquy, Louis le Brocquy: A Painter Seeing his Way (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1994), p. 58.
28 Alistair Smith, 'Louis le Brocquy: On the Spiritual in Art', Louis le Brocquy, Paintings 1939 - 1996, (Dublin: Irish Museum of Modern Art, October 1996 - February 1997), p. 40.
29 Statement made to the editor, April 2004.
30 Anne Madden le Brocquy, Louis le Brocquy: A Painter Seeing his Way (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1994) p. 2.
31 Statement made to the editor, April 2004.
32 Le Brocquy here refers to Rimington's colour organ which flushed colour in place of sound on a screen. Colour-music, the art of mobile colour (Hutchinson & Co, 1912).
33 Le Brocquy, 'Artist 's Note', exhibition catalogue Louis le Brocquy, Aubusson Tapestries (Dublin: Taylor Galleries 2000; Agnew's, London May, 2001), p 15.
34 'The Girl in White', Evening Herald (April 3, 1941).
A Picnic (1940)
wax-resin medium on canvas mounted on board
Irish Museum of Modern Art, Beecher Collection
Girl in White,1941
oil on canvas mounted on board, 122.2 x 47.8 cm
Ulster Museum, Belfast
with the kind permission of the Trustees of the National Museums & Galleries
of Northern Ireland