#fridayfocus… Walter Osborne, The Fish Market, Patrick Street, 1893.

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.


#fridayfocus… James Mahony, Dublin from the Spire of St George’s Church, Hardwicke Place,c.1854

This wonderful watercolour by James Mahony is in the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland, and for me, was the star piece of the Dubliners exhibition last year. Bequeathed to the NGI in 1854 by Capt. G.A Taylor, it is an important record of the city in the immediate post-famine era, and has a special relationship with the foundation of the gallery itself.

St George’s Church, seen here in a nineteenth century engraving, was designed by Francis Johnston, and its soaring spire was a landmark feature of the North inner city. From this vantage point, Mahony encompasses the city, out to the Dublin mountains, with Dublin Port and the Irish sea to the left-hand side of the canvas. The Georgian squares and buildings of the city are visible; Mountjoy Sqaure can be seen in the left-hand foreground, and the Rotunda Hospital and Gardens to the right. Just off-centre on the right hand side, Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) stretches down to the river. In the centre of the boulevard, Nelson’s Pillar rises above the street, and keen eyes will spot that Carlisle Bridge (O’Connell Bridge) is in its original form, with a pronounced hump. It was widened and flattened in 1880, when the O’Connell Monument was also unveiled.

On the NGI website you can see more detailed pictures of Mahony’s panorama, and I now want to draw your attention to this one in particular.In the foreground of the detail, the Custom House shines out in all its Portland stone glory, flanked by ships on the river. Moving back into the painting, a much larger and tree-filled College Park can been seen, and then, glinting in the background, the glass structure designed by John Benson for the Irish Industrial Exhibition of 1853. To to the left hand side of the building, the Rutland Fountain on Merrion Square can just be made out.

The Irish Industrial Exhibition in 1853 was modeled on the Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851, and sought to both show off the industries and manufactures of Ireland, as well as stimulate the Irish economy. The Exhibition was visited by Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their family, and Mahony was on hand to record the occasion as seen in these works, also in the NGI collection. William Dargan had been a powerful force in organising the Exhibition, underwriting the expense of the whole venture. The success of the Exhibition led to efforts to establish a permanent public art collection in Ireland, leading to the founding of the NGI by an Act of Parliament in 1854 (you can read a more thorough history of the institution here).

As well as browsing through examples of Irish poplin and linen and other manufactures, visitors to the exhibition could also make use of a viewing platform on top of the central dome, taking in the panorama of the city spreading out beneath them. Looking north from this perch, they might have been able to catch a glimpse of the spire of St George’s Church, bringing Mahony’s artistic gaze full circle. It’s just a pity that none of them thought to paint it.


Further Reading: Nancy Netzer, ‘Picturing an Exhibition: James Mahony’s Watercolours of the Irish Industrial Exhibition of 1853′, in Visualizing Ireland: National Identity and the Pictorial Tradition, ed. Adele M. Dalsimer, Winchester MA: Faber and Faber, 1993, 89-98.; Stephanie Rains, Commodity Culture and Social Class in Dublin, 1850-1916, Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2010.; Catherine de Courcy, The Foundation of the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin: National Gallery of Ireland, 1985.

Happy Birthday… Harry Kernoff!

Born in London on the 9 January 1900, Harry Aaron Kernoff was a prolific figure in twentieth century Irish art. Well regarded for his portraiture and landscape painting, Kernoff often focused on the depiction of Dublin, a city with which he became intimately familiar after the Kernoff family moved here in 1914.


As a teenager, Kernoff served as an apprentice cabinet maker with his father but later began attending art classes in the evening at the Kevin Street School of Technology and later at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art (DMSA). In 1923 he was successful in winning the Taylor Art Scholarship, allowing him to attend the school full-time. At the DMSA he was taught by Sean Keating and Patrick Touhy, and Kernoff often spoke of his admiration for William Orpen. Orpen’s lasting influence on twentieth century Irish art has been discussed at length elsewhere, but Kernoff’s admiration is perhaps most strongly evidenced in an early self-portrait of the artist (above). In stylistic terms, the artist often toyed with aspects of non-representational modernism, but his strongest work uses a type of non-academic realism, more reminiscent of the Ashcan School and later social realist painters in New York. This representational technique was well suited to Kernoff’s subject matter, allowing him to capture the everyday life of the city around him, as well as all the hustle and bustle it contained.


As well as general city views, such as the view of Fusiliers Arch above, Kernoff also depicted the industrial areas of Dublin, such as the docks and the different factories. Often these works also touch on the political life of the city, and at times reflect the artist’s own left-wing politics. These references take on a variety of forms such as the inclusion of posters with slogans such as ‘Vote 1 Labour’; through the depiction of buildings associated with the labour movement; or through the depiction of rallies and political meetings. In 1931 Kernoff travelled to the USSR with the Irish Branch of the Friends of Soviet Russia, and on his return wrote and lectured about the artistic life he had witnessed there, including the activities of the AkHRR. He noted on his return that a version of the composition below ‘Public Meeting’ or ‘Labour Meeting’ was reproduced in the group’s journal along with a number of his other works. Often, the artist would create multiple versions of a composition, in a number of different media, including watercolour,oil and woodcut. He published three books of woodcuts during his career, and they cover a range of different subjects.


Perhaps though, the works that Kernoff has become best known for are his depictions of Dublin’s literary pubs. Davy Bryne’s, the Bailey, McDaids, the Palace, the Oval – these haunts featured on the artist’s daily social rounds, recorded in diaries now in the Harry Kernoff Papers in the National Library of Ireland. He immortalised the pubs of Dublin in a composition titled ‘A Bird Never Flew on One Wing’, famously stating that he knew every single pub in the city after completing it, and had supplemented his own knowledge of the different public houses by using a Dublin phone book.

a bird never flew on one wing 1947020

Davy Byrne’s Pub, Dublin, from the Bailey dates to 1941, and shows the artist sitting at the bar (you can spot him in the mirror running across the bar on the right hand side) of the Bailey, looking across to the facade of Davy Byrne’s. Although famed for its inclusion in Ulysses as the place where Leopold Bloom stops for his Gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of red wine, Samuel Beckett was less than enthused about it’s clientele. As Nicolas Allen notes “With Liam O’Flaherty, Harry Kernoff and Austin Clarke crowding the haunts of the literati, ‘Pubcrawling is impossible in this town now'”. Kernoff however used the public house as a vital extension on his social life, and physically locates himself in this social sphere through his painting.

Boats at Anchor - Grand Canal Quay049Elected to the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1935, Kernoff’s strongest work dates to the late 1920s, 1930s and early 1940s. He lived and worked at his attic studio at 13 Stamer Street, Dublin 8 until his death in the 25 December 1974. In an obituary in The Irish Times, John Nolan called Kernoff ‘The Artist of the Workers’, saying that his art showed his “sympathies with the struggles of the unemployed; his drawings of men without work, the poverty that was around him and of places of work showed both his understanding and sympathy for working people.” In the last ten to fifteen years, Kernoff’s work has been extremely popular in Irish art auction rooms, at times fetching commanding prices. Perhaps some of the appeal of his work is its human and empathetic qualities, as well as its colourful depiction of the Dublin through the twentieth century.

Sources: Nicolas Allen. ‘Beckett’s Dublin’, in Samuel Beckett: A Passion for Painting, Dublin: National Gallery of Ireland, 2006, 44-51; John Nolan, ”Artist of the Workers’, The Irish Times, 30 December 1974, 10.

Further Reading: Kathryn Milligan, ‘Dear Dirty Dublin: Representations of the city in the art of Harry Kernoff RHA (1900-1974), in Artefact: Journal of the Irish Association of Art Historians, Dublin: 2011, 6-15; Kevin O’Connor, Harry Kernoff:The Little Genius, Dublin: The Liffey Press, 2012.