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Portrait of Elizabeth Bowen at Bowenscourt
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Portrait of Elizabeth Bowen at Bowenscourt
Irish School
Oil on canvas
91 x 71cm


Presented by Major Stephen Vernan, 1987

His portrait of the writer Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) shows her standing probably at the head of the staircase at her family home, Bowen's Court, in north county Cork. Hennessy, whose painting style was based on a very sheer kind of illusionism, often with overtones of surrealism and magic realism, paints her as a handsome, rather severe looking woman. The cool colour palette and clarity of form are typical of much of his work.

Bowen was an only child, whose ancestors had settled in Bowen's Court in Cromwellian times. Her novel The Last September, set during the troubles of 1920, registers the plight of her class - the land owning Anglo-lrish - who were thereafter in decline. She sold Bowen's Court in 1959, and was grief-stricken when it was demolished. She had holidayed there frequently after moving to London, and often brought literary guests with her, including Virginia Woolf whose complaint about the moth-eaten carpets suggests something of the fading grandeur of the Irish Great House. Hennessy captures Bowen's staunchness in keeping up her great house, presenting the social rather than creative side of her personality.


Lit. - Pyle, 1975 / Fallon, 1994

Patrick Hennessy RHA

Irish School

Patrick Hennessy was born in Cork in 1915. His family moved to Scotland in the early 1920's. He had many Scottish relatives, and was educated there. In the thirties he attended Dundee College of Art and met Harry Robertson Craig, who became his life-long friend. Hennessy was successful at art school, going on to do post-graduate work, and gaining a Travelling Scholarship. This enabled him to study in Paris and Rome. In 1939 he returned to Ireland, and during the forties alternated between Dublin and Cork. In 1947 he was living at Crosshaven, and in 1949 at Cobh. He first exhibited at the RHA in 1941, and continued to exhibit there every year (except for three occasions) for the next thirty years until 1971. He was elected ARHA in 1948 and RHA in 1949. He also exhibited with the Dublin Painters Group and sent work to the RA and Royal Scottish Academy. He had several one-man shows in Dublin. Some of his early pictures were portraits, but increasingly his pictures were landscapes of Co. Cork and the west of Ireland and pictures painted abroad. He travelled in Europe and North Africa latterly, working in Morocco during winter. He was an immensely productive artist, and his distinctive realist or photographic style preceeded the American 'Photo-Realist' style of the 1970's by many years. Hennessy died in 1980.


Irish Art 1900-1950 Rosc Exhibition, Cork 1975-76. Catalogue by Hilary Pyle
Patrick Hennessy RHA and Henry Robertson Craig RHA Christies catalogue, July 1986