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1948-50. Tinker paintings: Later phase (c.1948-50). Early tapestries
The tinker theme reaches its ultimate development with the so-called 'Apocalyptic' paintings. Brian Kennedy notes: 'In the late 1940's, as the politics of the cold war settled into place, le Brocquy, like many others, grew uneasy. "In those post-war, cold-war days," he has written, "we all of us walked in the fear of eventual nuclear disaster obliterating civilised life".'78 Paints In Fear of Cain (1948), an image of secreted violence, Fearful World (1948), a throwback to the terrors of primaeval times, and The Human Child (1948), alluding to W. B. Yeat's poem 'The Stolen Child': Come away, O human child! / To the waters and the wild / With a faery, hand in hand, / For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. According to Alistair Smith 'Le Brocquy's Man Creating Bird of 1948 is the culmination of the Tinker series. It refers to Picasso's Harlequins or Pierrots, while also invoking a chilhood memory of a Kingfisher. The painting, an exuberant and decorative response to Picasso's work of the late 1930's, makes it clear that by this time le Brocquy, now resident in London, was working in an international style which bore only little resemblance to that of his Irish contemporaries.'79 The artist himself evokes the painting in stark terms: 'I remember having in mind the puppet, Petrouchka, who becomes human in Stravinsky's great ballet. But here it is the puppet, man, who is creating life. An unconscious forecast of the ominous genetic achievement half a century later.'80 Exhibition at the Leicester Galleries, London (June 1948): Paintings and Studies, forty-four works, including The False Magi (1948), Evangelist Unborn (1948), The Dead Land (1948), Mother and Child (1948; goldleaf), A Child Dreaming (1948). Maurice Collis writes in Time and Tide: 'The present is his first full one-man show, though he has been represented at Gimpel Fils and the Leicester Galleries during the two years since he left Dublin. His career has been meteoric and he thoroughly deserves his reputation as a leading exponent of the school to which Adler and Robert Colquhoun belong.The school is closely allied to the group of French painters who, inspired by Picasso's Guernica manner, seek to express the portentous fatality of the times.'81 Included in Arts Council and British Council exhibitions, the work gains recognition at home and abroad. Shown alongside Sutherland, Nicholson, Freud, etc., in Young British Painters (1948), le Brocquy attracts critical praise at the Galerie Drouin, Paris, where Roger Ideville writes in Rayonnement des Beaux Arts (trans.): 'But the master among these young painters, the one that has entered deepest within the world of suffering and the absurd is Louis le Brocquy. His Condemned Man and his Tinkers Making Twig Sign are worthy of an entire review devoted to them.'82 Selected by the newly-launched Institute of Contemporary Art in Forty Years of Modern Art, London (February 1948), the Irish Times writes: 'All the high priests of Modern Art are included. There are five pictures by Picasso, ranging in date from 1907 to 1938, three each by Braque and Matisse, four by De Chirico, as well as works by Rouault, Derain, Juan Gris, Modigliani and Vuillard. Two Irish artists are included in the exhibition: Sir Laurence Olivier has lent a fine richly-coloured oil entitled "Farewell to Mayo" by Jack Yeats; from Mr. Howard Bliss's collection comes "Connemara Cottage Dwellers," a recent oil by Louis le Brocquy, which shows this young artist taking his place with full confidence among the modern painters of distinction.'83 In 1948, parallel to his painting the artist develops an interest in tapestry design when the Arts Council and Edinburgh Tapestry Company invite a number of well-known artists living in London to submit a composition. Designs Irish Tinkers (1948), the first of seven works conceived in the late 1940's and early 1950's. Stylistically analogous to his paintings of the period, the tapestries are conceived by way of flat (gouache) colour cartoons, reverting to mediaeval methods. According to John Berger: 'Unlike those by Moore, Sutherland, and others (le Brocquy's) are really drawn in the medium.'84 Deeply impressed by the Apocalypse d'Anger and La Dame á la Licorne of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries seen in French Tapestries, Victoria and Albert Museum (1947), the artist writes: 'Even such supreme artists as Raphael, Rubens or Goya, subject to the perspectival vision of their times, failed to grasp the nature of a flat, insistent surface such as tapestry. Their designs for this medium, however splendid in themselves, show such a misunderstanding of it as to appear to us inappropriate and even trivial when compared with, let us say, the Apocalypse tapestries of Angers - the work of relatively humble French designers and weavers, working within the essential reality of their woollen surface. Since the close of the last century it has become increasingly clear that a renewed preoccupation with the nature of two-dimensional surface is one of the central characteristics ofvisual thought in our new age. It is closely related, as it has always been, to a conceptual or inward-looking way of seeing and expressing reality.'85 The artist's rejection of the practice of submitting paintings to be interpreted by weavers, 'laboriously translating paint scumbles into weft', leads him to join the Association des Peintres-Cartoniers de Tapisserie in France. Commenting on the mock imitation of paint in poor tapestry design, Gimpel Fils note: 'In the Middle Ages tapestries had been happily limited to some 20 or 30 shades, using frank and virile colours as opposed to the 14,000 delicate and often impermanent tones, which the perverted ingenuity of French dyers had produced by the end of the 18th century. The responsibility for this wasteful and injurious technique rests largely with Oudry, Director of the Beauvais workshops from 1734, who assigned to Tapestry the role of reproducing oil paintings.'86Embarks on his second design, Garlanded Goat (1949-50), woven by Ronald Cruickshank at Dovecote Studios, Edinburgh Tapestry Company. Based on his painting Goat in Snow (1949-50; Leeds City Art Gallery), the motive is inspired by the ancient pagan ritual crowning of the animal at Puck Fair, Killorglin, Co. Kerry.Proclaimed by John Berger as unparalleled in the country: 'His decorative tapestry of a goat is the best I have seen produced by an English [sic] artist.'87 the composition establishes le Brocquy's reputation in the medium. Designs Allegory (1950), the largest tapestry design to date woven by the historic seventeenth century workshop Tabard Frères & Soeurs, Aubusson. Compositionally close to his paintings of the period, the design, however, is treatedwith a colourful gaiety and a monumentality well beyond its modest size. Allegorical allusions include a sun, a moon, the winding of a skein of wool, and the emergence of a child, asserting the artist's principle that in tapestry the theme or 'story' should, as in Ballet, be of the utmost simplicity. According to James White: 'The child first appeared in the artist's mind as one figure in a composition called 'The Fair at Bray Head' [(1949)], which showed a number of figures in a small fairground against a backcloth of sky and sea. The child caught his imagination, and worked upon it. It became charged with a meaning of its own as a symbol of the lost children of Europe, wandering through a cruel world with wonder and only half-understanding. When it was recreated as a separate work [Child with Doll (1949)], the doll remained with it, as a symbol of yet another future generation that these children carry with them. In short, the child with doll is a parable of recurrent life, springing up through the ruins as fireweed grows on the rubble of a bombed house.'88 Riann Coulter notes that Child with Doll represents an important transitional work in the artist's development: 'Created between his celebrated 'Traveller' paintings and the 'Grey Period' works, of which A Family, 1951 (National Gallery of Ireland), is the best-known example, Child with Doll includes elements of both series. In form, the ragged toddler who trots along while embracing a smiling doll is reminiscent of the Traveller children who hang on their mother’s skirts in paintings such as Tinkers Enter the City, 1947, and Tinkers Break Whitethorn, 1947. Yet in setting and theme Child with Doll presages many of the Grey Period works. Like A Family, Child in a Yard, 1953 (Dublin City Gallery: The Hugh Lane), and several of the other paintings that le Brocquy exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1956, this image features a child whose humanity is contrasted with its stark surroundings.'88bis As Riann Coulter further notes: 'The connections between Child with Doll and the horrors of war are strengthened by an inscription on the verso of the work which reads Homage á Jankel Adler. Born in 1895 into an Orthodox Jewish community in Poland, Adler made his home in Germany until the rise of National Socialism forced him to flee, firstly to France, and then to London. Adler, whom le Brocquy met in London in 1947, soon became both a friend and an inspiration to the young Irish man. Despite the contrasts in their ages and backgrounds, these two artists from opposite ends of Europe combined a strong allegiance to their cultural roots with an appreciation of the international avant-garde. The influence of Picasso is particularly palpable in Adler’s work and although le Brocquy knew his work first hand, in Child with Doll Picasso’s influence is filtered through the eyes of Adler. While Child with Doll does not appear to relate directly to a particular work by Adler, the subject of the wandering child of le Brocquy’s homage can be connected to the plight of Adler’s family. All of Adler’s sisters and brothers perished in the Holocaust, leaving only a niece and a nephew to join the orphans of Europe.'88bis The artist is included in From Gainsborough to Hitchens, 'The Howard Bliss Collection', Leicester Galleries (January 1950), The Private Collector, Contemporary Art Society, Tate Gallery; Irish Painting, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (February 1950), The Providence Sunday Journal reports: 'I realize that paintings like le Brocquy's "Condemned Man" must come as a shock to many persons of Irish blood in this country. They have always thought of such painting as essentially Parisian, possibly German, or even American - but they doubtless never imagined, even in their wildest flights of fancy, that Irishmen would do such a thing. Let me hasten to reassure these bewildered souls. Le Brocquy's "Condemned Man" is a wonderful painting - no distorted botch, but a painting which would reflect credit on the painter and his country wherever it was shown. Le Brocquy's is an intensely personal insight, and it is projected into his painting with an extremely able control of the medium. He knows what he is doing, what he wants to say, and how to say it.'89 The Arts Council ofGreat Britain commissions le Brocquy a large-scale work for the Festival of Britain, alongside a number of distinguished painters and sculptors including Ben Nicholson, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. Paints Woman and Bird (1950), entered in Sixty Paintings for '51, Arts Council, Festival of Britain, London (July 1951). Patrick Heron writes in The New Statesman: 'The time has come when it is no longer meaningless to speak about the modern School of London. Something like the beginnings of a renaissance in the visual arts in this country is now evident beyond a doubt - though one might hear more discussion of it in Paris or New York than in London. Slowly we are producing a tiny group of artists of first-rate intelligence: that is to say, they are truly aware of what might be called the spiritual landscape of our time ... In spite of much that is purely personal in each of them, there seems more in the way of a common feeling, at any rate among certain groups: for instance, MacBryde, Colquhoun, Minton, Vaughan and Craxton. Less linked in any way are Passmore, Coldsteam, Ryan, le Brocquy, Freud, Bacon, Piper and David Jones. Yet all contribute to the rising School - as did Paul Nash, Frances Hodgkins and Christopher Wood.'90
78 S. B. Kennedy, Director of the Ulster Museum, exhibition catalogue, Anne Madden, Louis le Brocquy (Mexico: Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca, August 11 - 8 October, 2000).
79 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. 28.
80 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.
81 Maurice Collis, 'Natural Drawing versus Pattern', Time and Tide (London June 19, 1948).
82 Roger Ideville, 'La Jeune Peinture Anglaise', Galerie Drouin, Paris. Review of the British Council exhibition Young British Painters (Sutherland, Nicholson, Freud, etc.) Rayonnement des Beaux Arts (Paris, February 1948).
83 The Irish Times, 'Modern Art, French, Irish, English' (February 18, 1948).
84 John Berger, 'Distinguished Humility', Art News and Review (London. June 16, 1951).
85 Louis le Brocquy, 'Thoughts on our Time and Jean Lurçat', Ark 17 (London: Royal College of Art, 1956) . Reproduced in exhibition catalogue Louis le Brocquy, Seven Tapestries 1948-1955 (Dublin: Dawson Gallery; Belfast: Ulster Museum 1967) and Louis le Brocquy, Aubusson Tapestries (Dublin: Taylor Galleries 2000; Agnews, London May, 2001).
86 Introduction, exhibition catalogue Modern French Aubusson Tapestries (London: Gimpel Fils, May - October 1949).
87 John Berger, 'Louis le Brocquy', The New Statesman (London, February 12, 1955).
88 James White, 'Contemporary Irish Artists (VI): Louis le Brocquy', Envoy, vol. 2, no. 6 (Dublin, May 6, 1950), p. 59.
88bis Riann Coulter, CHILD WITH DOLL, HOMMAGE Á JANKEL ADLER, 1949, Whytes, Important Irish Art, 28 April, 2008. Lot 53.
89 Bradford F. Swan, 'Exhibition Leaves Impression Contemporary Irish Art Is Shunning 'Nationalism' in Narrow Sense of Word; Effect of War's Isolation Evident', The Providence Sunday Journal (Boston, March 10, 1950).
90 Patrick Heron, 'The School of London', New Statesman (London, April 9, 1949).
Fearful World, 1948
oil on gesso-primed hardboard
91.5 X 122 cm
Aubusson tapestry, 180 x 100 cm
Atelier Tabard Frères et Soeurs, France, edition 9
Garlanded Goat, 1949-50
Aubusson tapestry, 180 x 100 cm
Atelier Atelier Tabard Frères et Soeurs, edition 9.
Aubusson tapestry, 183 x 230 cm
Atelier Tabard Frères et Soeurs, edition 9