Crawford Art Gallerypermanent collection

Letter from America
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News from America
oil on canvas
81.5cm x 91cm


Presented by Lord Powerscourt, 1962

In this painting, showing the interior of a West Cork cottage, the young girl reads a letter recieved from America to her parents, who presumably are illiterate. The girl, therefore, can be read as representing the spread of universal education in Ireland in the mid-ninetenth century, with the establishment of the Government National Schools system. Her parents are dependant on the daughters newly aquired skills. It is difficult to over-emphasise the importance of universal literacy in relation to political and social developments in Ireland in the nineteenth century.

James Brenan
Irish School

James Brennan was born in Dublin in 1837 and studied at the School of Art and at the Royal Hibernian Academy School. He went to London and studied under Owen Jones and Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt, assisting then with decoration of Pompeian and Roman courts of the Crystal Palace, built for the Great Exhibition of 1850. He returned to Dublin and taught at the Dublin Society's school. In 1855 he studied at the Training School in London, and subsequently taught in the School of Art in Bermingham, then at South Kensington in London until 1860. He also taught part-time in Liverpool, Taunton and Yarmouth. He was headmaster of the Cork School of Art from 1860 to 1889 and exhibited numerous paintings at the RHA between 1861 and 1906.

In 1889 Brennan was appointed headmaster of the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin. There he played an important part in the development of the school and the advancement of crafts (particularly lace-making) and industrial art throughout Ireland. Strickland (1913) points out Brennan's personal qualities and popularity among the students. He died three years after his retirement in 1907.

He painted mainly small pictures of cottage interiors and scenes of Irish peasant life, (eg: The Prayer of the Penitent, The Fisherman's Daughters, News from America, A Maker of Beehives and Girls Quilting - Cottage Interior), and also landscapes of Co. Cork, (eg: Glengarriff), of Kerry, Wicklow, Mayo and Donegal.


A Dictionary of Irish Artists by W.G. Strickland, Vol.1
Royal Hibernian Academy. Index of Exhibitors by Ann M. Stewart, Vol.1

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