Jack Butler Yeats
Yeats holds an unusual claim to fame. The brother of much-heralded poet William Butler Yeats, he split his life between London, Sligo (in Ireland’s west) and Dublin, but is arguably best known for his depiction of the Liffey Swim, an outdoor swimming race through the capital city that’s still going today. The painting won the silver medal in the ‘Arts and Culture’ section of the Olympic Games in 1924, the only year that such an Olympic event existed. Yeats was an elusive figure and never allowed anyone to watch him paint his symbolist and expressionist images, and so despite being the first Irish artist to see a painting sell for over €1 million in 2011, relatively little is known of the creative stories behind the art.
A modern-day Irish street artist famous for striking colours and bold public offerings, Maser gained significant notoriety in Dublin in 2016, when a political piece on Temple Bar became the centre of a national debate. A heart endorsed with ‘Repeal the 8th’ – in protest against Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws (written into the constitution by the 8th Amendment) was the subject of heated debate and eventually removed due to planning permission laws. Not before the image became an icon of the Irish pro-choice campaign, however. Maser is now in high demand, and a referendum on Irish abortion law is expected in 2018.
An Irishman who spent much of his life in London, Orpen came a little earlier than the iconic Francis Bacon (his work hails from the early 20th-century) and was very much a commercial enterprise. His portraits for the rich of Edwardian society were popular before he headed for the front line in World War I, where he painted over 100 images of soldiers, prisoners of war and even the dead. Many of those paintings now hang in the Imperial War Museum in London, though there are still a few Orpen offerings to be found in Dublin’s National Gallery, too.
A Dublin-born Brit known for his stark portrait-style art, Francis Bacon didn’t start painting until he hit his 30s, but more than made up for it once he got going. Fixated on subjects like The Pope and Crucifixion, his brushstrokes were typically bleak and of the existentialist school. A proud gay man who spent much of his life exploring London’s debaucherous Soho scene, Bacon was a friend of Lucien Freud, later impacted heavily by the suicide of a lover.
Born to a French mother and an English father in Dublin, Rene Bull was a political cartoonist who worked both in Ireland, and in covering various international conflicts taking in Sudan, India and South Africa, eventually signing onto a technical role in World War II. His works were bright, colourful illustrations that explored satirical themes and usually aimed to make a pointed political case about the environment he depicted. He also illustrated a number of books later in life.
Another modern street artist and part of an extremely vibrant Dublin graffiti scene (check out areas around Francis Street, Camden Street and Inchicore in particular), Solus uses art as a way to explore his demons. With works currently on display in galleries from New York to Sydney, he’s also expanded into producing canvas-based art, and regularly ‘performs live’ in producing his street pieces, both commercially and as part of various street festivals.
James Arthur O’Connor
A 19th-century landscape artist who depicted countless views in Dublin’s neighboring county Wicklow, James Arthur O’Connor – who features heavily in Dublin’s National Gallery – has since been dubbed the ‘quiet man’ of Irish landscape painting. O’Connor died so poor that a fund had to be set up to support his widow, but like many artists, his time came later. Many of his works are worth in the tens of thousands today and depict an Ireland a far cry from what it has become almost 200 years after his death.
The unlikely missing link between revolutionary Cuba and Ireland, Jim Fitzpatrick mainly produces artwork based heavily on Celtic symbolism but has another major claim to fame. The image of Che Guevara (who had Irish roots, incidentally) that’s become internationally famous was created by Fitzpatrick as a tone portrait in 1968. Fitzpatrick never placed copyright on the piece, saying that the “horse had bolted” after it achieved its acclaim. He’s still going strong and sells his paintings online, with impressive local contributions including the designs of a number of Thin Lizzy album covers, as well as work with the art used by Sinead O’Connor.