Tributes paid to 'towering figure in Irish art' le Brocquy

Thu, Apr 26, 2012, 01:00

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins led tributes to one of Ireland’s best-known artists, the painter Louis le Brocquy, who died yesterday at his home in Dublin. He was 95.

Since the early 1940s onwards, he has been a major figure on the Irish art scene. Le Brocquy is best known for his iconic series of Portrait Heads, begun in 1964 – which includes pictures of literary greats such as WB Yeats, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett – and his illustrations for the 1969 Dolmen Press edition of Thomas Kinsella’s translation of The Táin.

President Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan and chairwoman of the Arts Council Pat Moylan all extended their sympathy to the artist’s wife, Anne Madden, and their sons Pierre and Alexis, and expressed sadness at his death.

In his statement, Mr Higgins said: “I regret the loss of a great artist and a wonderful human being whose works are among this country’s most valuable cultural assets and are cherished by us all.”

The Taoiseach described him as “one of the greatest artists of his generation”. He was, said Mr Deenihan, “the first truly internationally successful Irish modernist”.

In her statement Ms Moylan said: “Contemporary Irish visual artists owe a great deal to the legacy of Louis le Brocquy.”

The National Gallery of Ireland issued a statement describing him as “a towering figure in Irish art”.

Speaking from New York, novelist Colm Tóibín said le Brocquy was, “one of the greatest Irish people of the last century”.

He had “dedicated his life to the idea that paint as a medium . . . could not merely represent reality, but could express a powerful reality of its own. He understood that he came from a great tradition of European painting, and he succeeded in refining that tradition and making his own mark on it. When he spoke about his work, he had a brilliantly clear mind and a sharp intelligence.”

The director of the Dublin City Gallery – The Hugh Lane, Barbara Dawson, said his work “has left an indelible mark on Irish culture. His radical practice has been an inspiration for generations of Irish artists and is central to our identity. Ireland has lost one of its great artists.”

Describing him as “a huge figure in Ireland”, painter Mick O’Dea said that he represented “a direct contact with modernism and with post-war European painting. That was enormously important.”

Le Brocquy was born in Dublin in 1916. He worked in the family business, the Greenmount Oil Refinery in Harold’s Cross, and studied chemistry, but art was his first love and, with the encouragement of his mother Sybil, he travelled to London and Europe to study the great European painters. That formed his artistic education.

From 1946 he was based in London and then, when he and Anne Madden married in 1958, they moved to France.

From 1964 he began his Portrait Head paintings, inspired by a museum display of painted Polynesian heads and the Celtic head cult. A painting of James Joyce’s head in the late 1960s was the first of a series of literary subjects.

Le Brocquy had great natural facility as a painter but from early on, inspired by his knowledge of modernism in Europe, set out to challenge artistic convention.

A man of real charm and wit, and with a lively intelligence, he was an immensely popular, highly regarded figure and for many years he and Madden were the best-known artistic couple in Dublin. A public commemoration will be held in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin on Saturday at 2pm.