Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Poking Through the Paint

It's a while since I last spent a Sunday in the National Gallery, so yesterday I made the trip stopping off a Read's new bookshop on Nassau Street (no great shakes). By the way, does anyone else out there get paranoid entering a bookstore knowing you have a volume in your pocket and nervous you'll somehow be accused of stealing it? Do you have that receipt? Would they allow you go home for it if you did? Does the book look old enough not to be theirs? Have they all their stock barcoded? I'm out of pills.
There was a new Jack B. Yeats exhibit, so I took a wander there after my customary glance through the 20th Century Irish room (a new Paul Henry acquisition, 'Morning in Connemara (Killarney Bay)', is his best work I've seen; I'm not usually a fan).
I tend to take Yeats for granted, but he really is the only GREAT painter we've produced. He is a complete original. This new selection really brought it home to me. The figures poke through the paint as from another dimension. The only thing that irks me is the old-fashioned subject matter. Such a style demands at least sometimes more vital subject matter. The mythic stuff is good, as are the scenes of common life, but by the Thirties, with so much happening in the world, such a distance from worldly concerns seems cowardly. There is a painting, 'Old Walls', from 1945, that almost feels born of the time, but this might well be wishful thinking on my part. Still 'Morning in the City' is a shock, full of sharp, hot red and reeking of a city morn. 'Figures of Destiny' and a 'Scene of Grief' are also imposing. Refreshing revisit.
I wandered to the Dargan Room (I think) where there was an exhibition of European art from 1850 to 1950; stuff "they hadn't shown in a while" . Three pictures in I suddenly found myself staring at a Picasso. Then a Juan Gris. A Modigliani nude. Nolde. Two Bonnards. An early Van Gogh. Signac. Monet. Why the hell hadn't they shown this in a while! I somehow never expected to be seeing this standard of work on a Sunday ramble, even in a gallery I often celebrate. And here I was stumbling across some familiar masterpieces and some new ones (an electric Pechstein, for instance). Was it our National Gallery where I'd seen that Signac before or that Von Dongen? It's starting to come back to me, but it seems such a long time and somehow a different place. Anyhow I think we can hold our heads high as far as our gallery is concerned.


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