This morning, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it would be fun to see if there were any connections between our collection and Ireland. I emailed our curators to pose the question and their responses not only gave me the information I needed, but reminded me why I continue to love being a part of CMA after more than six years: I learned several new things this morning. Honestly, that is one of the largest reasons I being a part of the Museum continues to be rewarding for me.
So, after the initial “No, I don’t think we have anything in the collection tied to St. Patrick or to Ireland,” I got, “Well, now wait a minute, there is that painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds of Lady Gertrude Fitzpatrick, let me see…” And, as I sat on the phone and listened, “Huh, her father was John Fitzpatrick, 2nd Earl of Upper Ossory, oh, and look, his earldom was of the Irish Peerage.”
Great! I have my tie to Ireland, I’ll send out a quick message over Facebook and Twitter, oh, but hold on, there’s another email. “HENRI!!!! His Fish Basket boy was done in Ireland, and he’s known for his portraits of Irish children.” Really, Robert Henri? But, I thought he was known for his works in New York? And here the flood gates open, “Well, I thought it was from NYC too, until Rachel Trinkley turned in her essay on the painting. Excerpts below:
Robert Henri likely painted The Fish Basket during one of his extended stays in Ireland in the 1920s. Henri and his wife Marjorie, an emigrant, first took an extended visit to the country in 1913. They returned nearly ten years later, in 1924, at which point the couple purchased Corrymore House on Achill Island, County Mayo, off the northwest coast of the mainland. Here, Henri spent a series of springs and summers depicting “…the Irish peasant, whose love, poetry, simplicity, and humor have enriched my existence, just as completely as though each of these people were of my own country and my own hearthstone.”
Fish Basket portrays a young boy with dark piercing eyes staring directly out from the picture, his rosy, vibrant complexion and protruding ears contrasting against the muddied background and dark palette of his clothes. The boy holds a basket in his lap for collecting fish, his source of income.
Residents happily make the trek to Henri’s studio; he painted nearly 140 portraits during his time on the island. Such shared love is felt in Henri’s portraits. There is a vitality and energy present in the application of paint and in the matter-of-fact stares of the individuals. The portraits resonate emotionally with viewers; it is easy to like them. Henri advocated the importance of emotions in The Art Spirit, the consummate teacher’s publication that, part-manual, part-manifesto, is still in print today. “The man who wants to produce art must have the emotional side first,” wrote Henri.“The pictures which do not represent an intense interest cannot expect to create an intense interest.”
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