December 15th, 1933


FROM THE ARCHIVES:Artist Sean Keating described the state of art in Ireland in this lecture. - JOE JOYCE

WE COULD NOT, he said, claim that we had not got art on the ground of our unhappy history. Practically every country had the same history; yet that did not prevent the production of art. Though elsewhere the patrons and protectors of art, the Church in Ireland ignored it. For evidence of that, they had only to look at the inside of any church or chapel, or at the windows of any Catholic repository. This was not a matter of price, but of choice.

Even our own Government had ignored art. He knew that the present Government was sincerely interested in the establishment of a native culture, but so far they had done nothing for painting or sculpture. He did not know what place art held in the list of things to be done, but evidently it was nowhere near the top. He added that the only institution which did anything to enable Irish painters and craftsmen to live and work in Ireland was the Irish Hospitals Trust.

The Municipal Gallery, he went on to say, was one of the finest of its kind in the world; it was the only gallery in the world in which the pictures could be properly seen at any hour of the day. This gallery had no income out of the rates. It depended entirely on the munificence of private donors, which ceased to grow since the death of Hugh Lane.

This gallery was not a specifically Irish gallery, and did not claim to be so. In the Tate Gallery of Modern Art in London 80 per cent of the pictures were by Englishmen. The same was true of the Luxemburg {sic} in Paris, where the big bulk of the pictures was by French artists. Our gallery, while having a better building than any of the others, contained only seven per cent of pictures painted in Ireland by Irishmen.

If we had the disadvantage of having no tradition, we had at least been saved from traditionalism, and that was all to the good. I think, he said, that, although we have no traditions in art, we have the material for native art. I believe in the latent capacity of the Irish people. Nothing else can explain their resistance as a nation to the virus of Anglo-Saxon vulgarity. Nothing but the capacity for art can explain the existence of Gaelic music, poetry and dancing. Behind the faces of the Irish there is a soul.

We have in Ireland, at the present moment, a number of young Irishmen of talent and individual character. We have here all the material for an Irish School of Art, if the individuals were given the necessary facilities and encouragement. I have no idea of how these facilities, if granted, could be used in a native school of Irish painting. {...}

I would like to see this school launched in the Gaeltacht. It would costs about a tenth of what we are spending on art education with poor results, and I should be very happy to talk more about it to anyone who would help to realise it.