Graham Knuttel, artist celebrated for unique style, dies aged 69

Dublin painter ‘engaged in life as he engaged in his art – that is to say, boldly and without reserve’

Graham Knuttel: the artist with one of his works at L'Ecrivain restaurant in Dublin in 2008. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Graham Knuttel, the painter celebrated for his instantly recognisable figures, has died at the age of 69, according to an announcement on his social-media page.

The Dubliner, who developed an idiosyncratic style, died surrounded by family on Saturday, May 27th. His work was among the best known by contemporary Irish artists, hung in restaurants and galleries in Dublin in addition to belonging to public and private collections around the world.

Born in Dublin in 1954, Knuttel discovered his love for figurative, representational painting at Dún Laoghaire School of Art. In 1976 he was a winner of the Royal Canada Trust Award for Young Sculptors, although he took up sculpting at college only “in order to pass his final year”, according to his social-media page.

His characteristic style was of bold, colourful, stylised figures with a strong graphical quality. His paintings were often of sinister, dark scenes and dodgy, gaudy characters, night owls and lounge lizards.


“You will know that he engaged in life as he engaged in his art – that is to say, boldly and without reserve,” the announcement on Knuttel’s Facebook page read. “He greatly valued the cut and thrust of debate and the vivid colours that satire and dark humour deliver. We know that he is grateful to you all for having made the connection.”

An icon of Celtic Tiger Ireland: Graham Knuttel captured a time that hasn’t quite faded from memoryOpens in new window ]

Knuttel’s mother was a Unitarian from Northampton. Knuttel said: “My parents came to Ireland in 1947 from Bedford, in England, where my father had served with the RAF. My grandfather was a stone-quarry owner in Dresden, Germany, but my father and grandmother came to England after the first World War. My father is a strange, eccentric man, but he has nothing on his mother.”

Knuttel’s grandmother had a memorable impact on him as a child. “Her cheeks were hollow, whitened with powder and highlighted with rouge .., The sight of her beside my father’s huge dark wardrobe sent me into a state of total hysteria. There being no one else in the room, she tried to lock me in the wardrobe. I can still hear her cackling and feel her long white claws at the back of my neck ... I often look at my drawings of birds, with which I have had a long obsession, and I wonder. I’m glad that I managed to find some sort of humour in what I firmly believe was a very close call. I think she might easily have strangled me and possibly eaten me had not my cries been heard. She was returned that same day to Margate [in Kent], where she lived in a guest house surrounded by her collection of stuffed animals, until her death, in 1962.”

In 1998 the Turk’s Head pub on Parliament Street in Dublin agreed to pay Knuttel undisclosed damages after it exhibited counterfeits of his works Night on the Town, Love in the Afternoon and Foyer Regent Palace Hotel. When Knuttel asked the pub to take them down, it refused.

One of the originals was in the collection of the actor Sylvester Stallone, who bought 45 of Knuttel’s paintings; 30 of them were destroyed by an earthquake. Another of the originals was bought by Frank Sinatra’s manager, Jerry Weintraub. The third had been on the wall of Renards nightclub in Dublin until it was damaged by fire.

In 2004 the operator of an art gallery in the St Stephen’s Green Centre in Dublin agreed to stop calling itself the Knuttel Gallery after one of a series of legal actions that the artist took against people using his name. He told The Irish Times that he objected to the use of the name Knuttel because he had built a reputation as an artist, not as a gallery owner. He also believed the use of the name created the impression that he had a formal association with the gallery, which he did not.

The gallery sold works by his brother, Peter Knuttel, and his nephew, Jonathan Knuttel, which he believed might cause confusion. “A lot of people would simply know me as Knuttel rather than Graham Knuttel. I felt that people would be led into the gallery expecting to see my work. If they saw paintings in the shop by Peter Knuttel or Jonathan Knuttel they might think they were mine.”

Whyte’s, the Dublin auction house, had a sale in November 2021 of 11 paintings by Knuttel, five of which once hung in La Stampa, the brasserie in the city, which closed in 2007. One of the pieces, called Planet Hollywood, which had an estimate of €10,000-€15,000, showed the restaurant’s gala opening being attended by a swarm of celebrities, including Stallone. “We’ve had dealings with valuers in Hollywood over the years,” Whyte said at the time. “People bought Knuttel’s paintings because they saw them in Sylvester Stallone’s house, and the local valuers didn’t know what to make of them.”

President Michael D Higgins led tributes to the artist saying: “May I send my condolences to the family and friends of Graham Knuttel, who throughout his life made such a valuable contribution to Ireland’s artistic community.”

Minister for Arts Catherine Martin said Knuttel “made an immense contribution to Ireland’s artistic landscape”.

“The bold colours and themes in his work were both striking & thought provoking contributing to his lasting international legacy ... Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.”

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist