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1945-46. Tinker paintings: Early phase (c.1945-47)

Encounters the 'Tinkers' near Tullamore, Co. Offaly (August 1945). The vitality, mystery and wildness of these travelling people is admired by le Brocquy: 'Most of all I was impressed by their insistence on freedom - freedom from every external regulation - observing only their own tribal rules, their tradition. Not, perhaps, altogether unlike the independence of the artist within society.'60 Described as the once-dispossessed people of confiscations wandering without security of land, Earnán O'Malley remarks: 'They are lithe and hardy, sharp in feature, and capable of sudden calls on endurance from their uncertain way of life in a difficult climate. With them primitive emotions are easily aroused and expressed; their woman drink and fight as readily as their men, and bear children without halting the day's journey. Their aloofness, intractability, and fierce independence interested le Brocquy. They are, he could see, outside of the closely organised life of the parish unit, looked on with mistrust and suspicion ... They become a symbol of the individual as opposed to organised, settled society ... For the creative worker they could represent the artist who deals in the unexpected and the unrecognised and who suffuses with meaning familiar things.'61 Armed with bicycle and sketchbook, the artist produces swiftly executed life-sketches depicting their unruly way of life. The art critic Dorothy Walker notes: 'He got on well with them because he was different from them and did not attempt to identify with them, because they were in fact extremely jealous of their own identity, of their own language shelta, a form of Irish, and of their own esoteric practices.'62 The artist explains: 'Faced with Cromwell's choice to Hell or Connaught, the forebears of the travelling people took a third way. They took to the road. In time they became the road - that which lies outside the security of settled society - their wild nature as defiantly distinct as that of a tiger.'63 According to Alistair Smith: 'Le Brocquy's interest in the travelling way of being, like Synge's before him, is to be seen in the context of the century's "discovery" of so-called "primitives", or, rather, of societies where there still exist languages and customs which have not been eroded by modern society.'64 Embarks on the 'Tinker period' (c.1945-48), the largest distinguishable body of work to date. The life-sketches serve for a series of vibrant watercolours and oils. Paints Tinkers in a Landscape (1945), Connemara Landscape (1945), Tinkers Twilight (1945), Sick Tinker Child (1946), Tinkers Resting (1946; Tate Gallery). According to Earnán O'Malley: 'Tinkers Making Twig Sign (1946) is pervaded by a sense of ritual and mystery. The moon a symbol of wonder, intuition and the unknown, floods soft green light over the head and back of the standing tinker and across the country in the background. A tinker bends forward on his knees completely absorbed in his almost sacerdotal task of holding two sticks which he crosses on the ground opposite to him a kneeling woman with flaming wind-carelesshair, holding a similar stick in her hand, is ecstatically withdrawn by the ceremony. Her light blouse and patch-coloured dress oppose the darkly luminous tones of the man's clothes. A child, uniting kneeling man and woman, watches eagerly, whilst on the right a lean-jawed woman, isolated by treatment of strong light which surrounds her, lifts her face in apprehension. Along the mountain side the figure of a woman rests as if tradition, watching and guiding in a spirit of reverie, were present. Diverging paths lead up to houses, in front of which a lyrical mood of tender green landscape, a contrast in settled possession and quiet beauty to this isolated, stark intensity, of inherited mystery.'65 Le Brocquy appropriates John Millington Synge's notion of the spiritual bond between the traveller and artist, as Manet and Picasso had done beforehand with Baudelaire's. The elegant melancholy, however, of Picasso's 'blue period' Saltimbanques, who have much in common with the travelling communities, is substituted in le Brocquy's tinker paintings with a sense of harsh endurance. In this, the tinker theme may be seen to express a more generalised predicament in the light of war-torn Europe, mirroring the dangers of an a way of life that, elsewhere, had ultimately lead to the horrific fate of the Jewish people and Eastern European Gypsies. First hand knowledge of the horrors of the Holocaust was gained from his friend, the French–Jewish art dealer Charles Gimpel met . As notes Yvonne Scott: 'The Travellers series was carried out in the wake of the Second World War also, to some extent in sympathy with the plight of the gypsies who had suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime. This regime had chosen to visualise itself in terms of Apollonian classicism. The culture they adopted was one of strict, linear order and an aesthetic of harmonious beauty that could find no place for the creative Modernist artists who, sharing the fate of the gypsies, were branded as ‘degenerate’. Such repression was the very opposite of all that the Travellers stood for and the Modernist aesthetic that le Brocquy developed to represent them was consequently appropriate.'65bis According to Anne Crookshank: '[le Brocquy's paintings] convey the proud isolation and the uncertainties of the travelling life with an understanding and feeling for the subjects which are very moving. Le Brocquy has said that: "For me the Travelling People represented, dramatically perhaps, the human condition. During this entire period there is much symbolism in his work, though at no time does this become an overriding preoccupation. Always the actual picture, its painting and its composition triumph over the literary and anecdotal content.'66 Once judged the 'enfant terrible' of the Royal Hibernian Academy, the artist is elected an Associate member (January 1946). Enters Tinkers Making Twig Sign into the Academy exhibition of that year. Myles na gCopaleen observes in The Irish Times: 'What other master - one thinks only of Yeats - could thus embroil us in the occult and half-seen, compel us, by force of a terrible beauty, to strange rites? '67 First paintings exhibited abroad Winter Exhibition, Leicester Galleries, London (February 1946), and Living Irish Artists, Leicester Galleries, London (October 1946). Maurice Collis writes in The Observer: 'Louis le Brocquy not only dominates the exhibition, but is evidently quite good enough to grace the most select private collection. He is showing twelve pen-and-wash drawings and four oil paintings, all of which a discerning public quickly snapped up. The drawings have exquisite colour, a lively and capricious line, and a mood that is eerie and of some other world ... The figures flit by or stand startled, gaze down or sideways; there is always a secret; and there is silence and no invitation to break it.'69 The artist prepares to leave Dublin for the wider challenge of the London art world.


60 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.
61 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. 75.
62 Dorothy Walker, Louis le Brocquy (Dublin: Ward River Press 1981; London: Hodder & Stoughton 1982), p. 23.
63 Louis le Brocquy, 'The Irish Sale', Sotheby's (London, May 18, 2000), p . 94.
64 Alistair Smith, 'Louis le Brocquy: On the Spiritual in Art', exhibition catalogue Louis le Brocquy, Paintings 1939 - 1996, (Dublin: Irish Museum of Modern Art, October 1996 - February 1997), p. 25.
65 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. 76.
65bis Yvonne Scott. Introduction, Louis le Brocquy Allegory and Legend, The Hunt Museum, Limerick, 16 June - 24 September 2006
66 Anne Crookshank, Introduction, exhibition catalogue, 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. 8.
67 Myles na gCopaleen, reproduced in 'Royal Hibernians' The Best of Myles, A selection from Cruiskeen Lawn, The Irish Times (Dublin, June 21, 1949). Myles na gCopaleen (or Myles na Gopaleen) was the pseudonym used by Brian O'Nolan, who also wrote novels under the name Flann O'Brien.
69 Maurice Collis, 'Bewitching Moore', The other Island, The Observer (London, October 20, 1946).



Tinkers Resting, 1946,
oil on gesso-primed hardboard, 50.8 x 35.6 cmc.
Tate Gallery, London.
Photograph Tate Picture Library








Travellers Making Twig Sign, 1946,
oil on gesso-primed hardboard, 46 x 54 cm