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Image of  James Joyce
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Image of
James Joyce

Irish school
Oil on canvas
92 x 78 cm


Presented by the artist, 1994
James Joyce was born in Dublin in 1882. Despite the family's deepening poverty, he was educated at the best Catholic schools and at University College Dublin. In 1904 he left Ireland for permanent, self-imposed exile, and settled in Trieste with Nora Barnacle, his life companion. A collection of short stories, Dubliners, was published in 1914, and the largely autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in 1916. After the Armistice, the Joyces went to live in Paris to facilitate the publication of Ulysses, on which he had been working since 1914. It was finally published in 1922, and brought Joyce international fame. He began working that year on Finnegans Wake, frequently with Samuel Beckett as his amanuensis. Much harassed by chronic eye troubles and deeply affected by the mental illness of his daughter, he completed and published the Wake in 1939. He died in Zurich in 1941.

In a continuing series of exploratory 'imaginary' portraits, le Brocquy tries to capture some of the essence of this writer, whose self-avowed task was to 'forge the uncreated conscience of my race'. The artist has written of his Joyce portraits:

It is said that no Dubliner can quite escape from the microcosmic world of Dublin, and in this I am certainly no exception. James Joyce in the apotheosis, the archetype of our kind and it seems to me that in him - behind the volatile arrangement of his features - lies his unique evocation of that small city, large as life and therefore poignant everywhere. But to a Dublin man, peering at Joyce, a particular nostalgia is added to the universal 'epiphany', and this perhaps enables me to grope for something of my own experience within the ever changing landscape of his face, within the various and contradictory photographs of his head which surround me, within my bronze death-mask of him and, I suppose, within the recesses of my own mind. Indeed I think that this preoccupation of mine is not altogether unlike that of the Celts of prehistory, with their oracular cult of the human head, the mysterious box which holds the spirit prisoner.

The poet John Montague said of these portraits:

...[they] link Joyce with the visual art of the race from which he sprang; link him to the strange beautiful heads, grim or grinning, of some early Celtic sanctuary or ruined Romanesque church. It is the stubborn face of Gaeldom, surviving all odds and vicissitudes, a light-hearted joker with a heavy burden, wearing the invincible armour of self-mockery.

Lit. - Walker, 1981 / le Brocquy, 1987 / Madden, 1994 / Morgan, 1995

Louis le Brocquy RHA
Irish School

Louis le Brocquy was born in Dublin in 1916. His initial training was as a chemist, and until 1938 he worked for the family business, the Greenmount Oil Company. Although largely self-taught as an artist - he spent much time studying in museums in London and Paris - le Brocquy is recognised as probably the most accomplished Irish artist working today. He has evolved a style that is spare and delicate, his early training as a scientist still evident in the careful consideration which he brings to his art. Although his early paintings were inspired by Cézanne and the Cubists, his more recent work counterpoints precise brushwork with elusive, inspired mark-making. His consummate mastery is shown in this specially commissioned triptych of portraits, depicting the three major Irish writers of the twentieth century.