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IRISH ARTISTS & ILLUSTRATION 1830-1930

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Irish cultural revival and Illustration view gallery

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From the early decades of the 1800s, books illustrated with engraved Irish topographical views and scenes of Irish life were reflective of a burgeoning Irish cultural consciousness. 

As the century progressed, and following the example of Irish Literary Revival writers, visual artists found inspiration in the annals of ancient Irish legends, in a landscape teeming with historically and culturally significant sites and in the lives and customs of rural inhabitants.  Published both in Ireland and Britain, these illustrated books had an important role in disseminating distinctive forms of Irish culture to national and international audiences. 

In the 1820s and 1830s, George Petrie’s drawings of Irish scenes were quintessentially works of picturesque tourism, appearing in engraved form in guidebooks, alongside memoirs and poetry. They publicised, encouraged and supported real tourist travel. 

Scholarly texts of Irish subject matter were also illustrated. Margaret Stokes’ book ‘Early Christian architecture in Ireland’, (1878) contributed significantly to Irish archaeological studies in 19th-century Ireland. Stokes was the author, editor, translator and a contributing illustrator. Images of important Irish historical sites and figures were also included in primers for Irish national school children. Among those involved in the production of same was the Grey family, a group of brothers who worked as painters and engravers in Dublin.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, a more subjective response to Irish themes emerges. Artists such as Beatrice Elvery visualised the heroics of ancient Irish warriors, her images are bold and descriptive in style.  Jack Yeats produced equally distinct, yet somewhat more stylised, images to accompany literary texts such as those for his collaborative venture with the publisher Elkin Mathews ‘A Broad sheet’. However, Yeats’ illustrations to accompany J.M. Synge’s written accounts of life in the west of Ireland are more fluid and naturalistic, and are based on his experiences and observations of Irish rural life.

‘Saorstát Eireann: Irish Free State official handbook’, edited by Bulmer Hobson, was conceived as a formative cultural expression of the twenty-six counties following Irish independence. The book was illustrated in an emphatic graphic style by artists including Maurice MacGonigal, Seán O’Sullivan and Harry Kernoff.  It was presented as an example of the excellence achieved in Irish book design and production, with the typographical device ‘Déanta i nÉirinn’ (made in Ireland) printed within its pages.  

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