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1994-95. Portrait Heads: Erwin Schrödinger (1994), George Moore (1994-98), Descartes (1995-98)
Turns to watercolour heads of Erwin Schrödinger (1994). It has been established in this chronology that le Brocquy attended Erwin Schödinger's famous series of lectures at Trinity College (February 1943). 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? 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".'283 In an interview with Michael Peppiatt the artist notes: 'I was tremendously struck, you know, by something Erwin Schödinger, 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 Iremain impressed by that thought.'284 Publication of Anne Madden le Brocquy's biography Louis le Brocquy. A Painter Seeing his Way, Gill & Macmillan Ltd., Dublin (1994). Turns to watercolour heads of George Moore (1994-98). Exhibition at Crawford Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Cork (June 1994): Images of Seamus Heaney. Exhibition at Galerie Bernard Bouche, Paris(November 1994): Images de Samuel Beckett. Turns to a series of head studies in oil and watercolour of Descates (1995-98). Brian O'Doherty observes: 'A slightly misshapen, three-quarter moon rises in a sheet of dim light. Closer examination reveals the hard edge of a skull in profile, a trace of nose and eye-socket attached. It is the emblem of the afterlife inhabited by the artist's corridors of phantom heads and corpses.'285 According to Alistair Smith: 'Among the intriguing objects which le Brocquy discovered in the Musée de l'Homme [Paris, 1964] was the skull of Descartes, alone in a case, 'an ivory dome ... smooth as a woman's breast.' While the physical entity of the skull itself was enough to have provoked le Brocquy to paint the image which allows us the feeling of entering the philosopher's mind, it is the circumstances of Descartes' life which made his skull particularly appealing. Like some other thinkers, he has been quoted as an example which supports Jung's notion of the unconscious and its influence on our conscious thoughts. ~The story goes that, in November 1610, Descartes experienced three dreams which revealed to him in a flash "the order of all sciences", and which consequently had a profound effect on his future. Le Brocquy's willingness to leave himself open to "chance" parallels Descartes'experience, although in a less dramatic way.'286 The artist explains: 'William Blake believed that "man's perceptions are not bounded by organs of perception". Evidently painting lies within these bounds. Yet I think of the art of painting as another way of seeing another approach to reality - another porthole, as it were, in the submerged bathysphere of our consciousness. In the context of our everyday lives, painting must be regarded as an entirely different form of awareness, for an essential quality of art is its alienation, its otherness. In art at its most profound level, actuality - exterior reality - is seen to be relevant, parallel, but remote or curiously dislocated.'287 The 'Grey period' painting Bathers, 1951, is recovered and restored ending forty years of mysterious disappearance (October 1994). Discovered in the basement of Iveagh House, Department of Foreign Affairs, Dublin, Anne Madden recounts: 'The painting, part of the Family series, had been lent by the Victor Waddington Gallery for the le Brocquy exhibition at the venice Biennale of 1956. Some time after its return to Dublin Louis was informed by Waddington that the painting had been destroyed in a fire on his premises. At the Department of Foreign Affairs in Iveagh House Louis was able to establish, with the expert detection of the conservator Mary McGrath, that the framed painting under glass had been "vehemently attacked" from the back of the canvas with a sharp instrument. The conservator counted twelve slashes, four of which had penetrated in verticle cuts clearly aimed at the male figure. We learned that it had long been rumoured within the Depatment of Foreign Affairs that Bathers, having returned intact from Venice, had been lent by Waddington to hang in the office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. At some point, it is believed, a lady civil servant of pronounced moral views had seen fit to remove the painting and assault it from the rear in the manner described. In such embarrasing circumstances a settlement was made with Victor Waddington in March 1958, whereby the injured work became "the absolute property of the said Minister". The terms of this settlement stipulated that the painting should be relegated to storage and that it should in no circumstances be "offered for sale, sold, exchanged or displayed in any manner whatsoever and shall remain in store in the custody of the Minister, his succesors and officers save with the consent of the artist, Mr le Brocquy". It was further stipulated that "The Minister's undertaking binds his successors and the officers of his department." Needless to say, Louis was never approached for his consent. Instead it seems that his friend Victor Waddington was prevailed upon to inform the artist that Bathers had been irreparably destroyed.'288
283 Anne Madden le Brocquy, Louis le Brocquy: A Painter Seeing his Way (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1994), p. 58.
284 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.
285 Brian O'Doherty, 'Three Notes on Louis le Brocquy's Paintings', exhibition catalogue, Louis le Brocquy, Human Images. Early and recent works on paper (Dublin: Taylor Galleries, 10 December 1998 - 16 January 1999), p. 7.
286 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. 48.
287 Louis le Brocquy, 'The Human Head: Notes on Painting & Awareness', 18th Distinguished International Department Lecture, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (Dublin, 14 November 2005) Edited from Actes du Colloque 'Corps-Poésie-Peinture', Faculté des Lettres de Nice Métaphores, No. 5 (Nice, February 8, 1979). Reproduced in Louis le Brocquy, 'Notes on painting and awareness,' Dorothy Walker, Louis le Brocquy (Dublin: Ward River Press 1981; London: Hodder & Stoughton 1982).
288 Anne Madden le Brocquy, 'Postscript', Louis le Brocquy: A Painter Seeing his Way (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1994), p. 294-295.
oil on canvas, 55 x 46 cm, AR656
oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, AR685
Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublim