Thomas Ryan: an artist with an eye on politics

Gallery honours 88-year-old painter with show of a lifetime’s work

In 1966 a young Irish artist decided to create his own commemoration of the 1916 Rising as the State celebrated the event's 50th anniversary. Thomas Ryan asked friends and fellow artists to pose for a major painting he created entitled The G.P.O. 1916. The painting, which has been on loan to Leinster House, where it has hung for the last 20 years, is among the highlights in a selling exhibition, Thomas Ryan R.H.A. – A Tribute Exhibition,– at the Gorry Gallery in Molesworth Street, Dublin, until December 9th.

According to gallery owner James Gorry, "this painting was created from life – there was no photography used – which was quite an achievement".

The names of the people who modelled are known, and include the artist’s wife Mary, who is depicted as a nurse tending one of the fallen rebels.

Gorry said: "In his penetrating engagement with the most momentous events of Ireland's long struggle for freedom, Ryan will come to be seen as the history painter of twentieth-century Ireland. "


The exhibition features 58 paintings spanning the artist’s whole career, including many never seen or exhibited before. But who is Thomas Ryan?

Ryan, who was born in Limerick in 1929, now lives in Co Meath, where he is still painting aged 88 – one of Ireland's oldest working artists.

He studied at the School of Art in Limerick in the 1940s, and then won a scholarship to the National College of Art in Dublin, where he was taught by Seán Keating and Maurice MacGonigal. In 1971, he became a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) and in 1982 was elected president, a post he held for 10 years. During his time as president Ryan undertook the completion of the building of the new gallery space on Ely Place, which was funded by the builder Matt Gallagher.

Honorary member

Ryan also became an honorary member of the Royal Academy in London and the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh; a governor of the National Gallery of Ireland; an associate of the National College of Art and Design; a founder member or the European Council of the National Academies of Fine Art in Madrid; and a board member of the stamp committee at An Post.

In 1990 he was elected president of the United Arts Club in Dublin and president of the Limerick Art Society. In 2007 he was made a freeman of the city of Limerick and an honorary doctor of literature at University of Limerick.

His painting of the first sitting of Dáil Éireann in the Mansion House (which hung over the entrance to the Dáil chamber) is soon to be illustrated as a postage stamp.

According to Gorry, Ryan "is a practitioner of a noble craft which requires – as a minimum – skill in drawing, painting, colour, composition, perspective and human anatomy. Tom's oeuvre is as impressive for its variety as for its technical brilliance, and its compass includes historical figure subjects, landscapes, interiors, still-lifes and portraiture. There are no short cuts to the creation of the paintings seen in this exhibition, and Tom Ryan is a fitting exponent of this disciplined tradition".


As usual with the Gorry Gallery, prices are not included in the catalogue (online at Among the highlights are Self-Portrait of the artist as a young man in 1965 which is for sale at €11,000. According to the gallery, some of the paintings, including The G.P.O. 1916 and Seanad Éireann, are still a matter "for negotiation" between the artist and prospective buyers – a rather unorthodox arrangement.

Are these paintings a good buy? Gorry, who is one of Ireland’s most experienced and best-known art dealers, doesn’t mince his words. He said Ryan’s paintings “will be admired and treasured in decades to come when the ephemeral fads that grip the art world periodically are long forgotten” .

The selling exhibition runs until Saturday, December 9th. See for further details .