For this week’s #fridayfocus, I’m staying with nineteenth century depictions of Dublin. In contrast to James Mahony’s panoramic view of the city which I discussed last week, this painting by Osborne brings us back down to street level, giving us a glimpse of everyday life in Dublin in the closing decades of the nineteenth century.
In the collection of the Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane, this is one of several paintings by Osborne which show the nineteenth century city. From Rathmines, Osborne was the son of a painter, William Osborne, and between 1876 – 81 he trained at the schools of the Royal Hibernian Academy, as well as attending classes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. After winning the annual Taylor Scholarship two years in a row, Osborne travelled to Antwerp to continue his artistic education. It was here that Osborne became immersed in the French and Flemish realist traditions. After a period of working in Brittany, Osborne returned to Dublin, working in the city during the winter months, before travelling on to England, where he spent the summer painting in small towns, villages and coastal areas, including Hastings and Rye (below, Hastings Railway Station, c.1880s)
The Fish Market, Patrick Street, is full of small and exquisite details. The faces of the woman seated behind the fish stall, and the girl standing just in front of it, are so softly rendered.The bowl right at the centre of the canvas in the foreground shines out, reminiscent of a Dutch still-life. In the background, we can see other market stalls selling everything from baskets to joints of meat. Similar details can be found in his depiction of St Patrick’s Close and another of my favourite paintings from the National Gallery of Ireland – The Dublin Streets: a Vendor of Books. As well as working from preparatory sketches, it is also possible that Osborne worked from photographs of the city. If you look at these photographs which were included in materials donated to the NGI by a relative of the artist in 1987 – doesn’t the one of St Patrick’s Street look familiar?!
Throughout the closing years of the nineteenth century, Osborne’s artistic star was in the ascent, and in his later work the light and tone shifts from the gritty, realist tones of The Fish Market, to a increasingly lighter palette filled with vibrant greens, as seen in the foliage of In a Dublin Park: Light and Shade (below).
However, in 1903, after cycling ‘about town inadequately dressed’, Osborne contracted double pneumonia and died aged forty-four. In 1903-04, the RHA held a memorial exhibition of over two hundred and seventy works by the artist, and later in 1904, Hugh Lane included his work in an exhibition of Irish painting at the Guildhall, London. Among his students were Estella Solomons and William John Leech, and Leech would later speak of the great influence of Osborne on his painting.
Something that I will be considering in the course of my my PhD will be Osborne’s representations of Dublin as a group of artworks. Considering both the style and technique of the paintings, and how they might be considered in relation to depictions of the London poor, by artist’s such as Luke Fildes, I will also be thinking about the paintings in the wider context of Dublin in the closing decades of the nineteenth century.