Dublin exhibition 'Irish history in pictures'

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Sir John Lavery painting
Image caption,
A painting of the trial of Roger Casement is part of the exhibition

The Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin is showing paintings by the Ulster artist, Sir John Lavery, which include portraits of nearly all the senior British and Irish politicians from the period of Irish independence. BBC NI's Dublin correspondent Shane Harrison has been to have a look.

The Hugh Lane gallery, a centre for modern art in Dublin, is not far from the city's main tree-lined thoroughfare, O'Connell Street.

The gallery is now showing an exhibition that can only be described as history in pictures.

The artist, Sir John Lavery, had extraordinary access to the great and the good on all sides of the argument about Irish independence.

For the first time, his portraits in the Ulster Museum can now be seen with those from the Dublin gallery.

There's King George IV and the royal family, IRA leader Michael Collins, a young Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, the prime minister at the time, Lord Craigavon, Northern Ireland's first prime minister, the Irish parliamentary nationalist leader John Redmond and the unionist leader, the then Sir Edward Carson.

An anecdote from the time has it that after Carson complained to Lavery that his portrait wasn't as flattering as Redmond.

The Home Rule leader is supposed to have replied that he always thought that one day he and Carson would hang together in Dublin.

Image caption,
John Redmond had joked he would one day hang beside Sir Edward Carson in Dublin

Barbara Dawson, the director of the Hugh Lane Gallery said: "Now, they are hanging together in Dublin. But I think Redmond meant something else."

Sir John and his beautiful wife, Hazel, whom he often painted, were the celebrity couple of their time.

She, an American, took an interest in Irish politics and is said to have had affairs with Michael Collins and also with Kevin O'Higgins a minister in the newly independent Free-State government.

Lavery painted his wife as the mythical Kathleen Ni Houlihan, a symbol of Ireland, and her image featured for decades on Irish bank notes.

Jessica O'Donnell, the head of collections at the gallery, said he was an artist with a sense of the importance of history.

"As an artist you have to be able to put your sitters at ease.

"But for him it wasn't primarily about chasing commissions. He had a genuine interest in representing his own time."

Image caption,
The exhibition is running until the end of October

The exhibition has delighted visitors both for its sense of art and history.

Robbie Smyth from Dublin was impressed with the paintings of the funerals of Michael Collins and the republican hunger-striker, Terence McSweeney.

"At a time when photography and film were becoming the norm it was just a brilliant snap-shot of historically important events," he said.

Jill Andrews said she always had an interest in Hazel Lavery.

She said putting all Sir John's paintings together from north and south "gives a very interesting flavour to the exhibition and discusses our background. Everyone should see it."

Peter O'Neill, from Dublin, thought it was always interesting to see art and politics engage especially with the current changes happening to the island of Ireland.

He said the exhibition of paintings from north and south "is in a nice way of bringing the two parts of Ireland together through art"

The exhibition, which is free, comes to an end on the last day of October.