2017-11-22-2017-11-18 --- 2017-11-18 06:16:12--18
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LOT :61
Howard Helmick (1845 - 1907)
Woman by the Hearth
Oil on canvas, 48.2 x 43.5cm (19 x 17¼'')
Estimate EUR : €4,000.00 - €6,000.00
Auction Date : 22-11-2017

Description

Howard Helmick (1845 - 1907)
Woman by the Hearth
Oil on canvas, 48.2 x 43.5cm (19 x 17¼'')
Signed and dated (18)'75

One of the most accomplished of the socio-realist painters to work in Ireland, Howard Helmick brought the sharp interest of an outsider into his images of Irish interiors. Born into a farming family in Ohio, he graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and then studied under Cabanel at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Throughout the 1870s and 80s, he exhibited Irish paintings from his addresses in London and Galway, often working in Kinsale, County Cork in the winter months. Both prolific and talented, he exhibited widely, not only at Dublins Royal Academy, but in Londons Royal Academy, as well as in Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. During his lifetime his paintings were popular because they bridged the gap between the traditional demands of the Academy clientele and the need felt by artists for a more factual approach. Adept at working in a broad range of media, his narrative oil paintings provide a beautifully detailed, reliable insight into objects, interiors, costumes and social situations which have long since vanished.

In this portrait of a woman in traditional rural clothing, warming her hands beside a floor level fire, the viewer is coaxed to read the symbols and interpret suggested narratives for her detached, distant gaze. This picture is reminiscent of Helmicks subsequent painting the Bachelor (1880), where a man sits alone in the same pose, on a similarly low seat, with his hands spread to catch the heat from the fire. However, this sitter averts her eyes from the fire and gazes in contemplation beyond the viewer. We know she is (or was) married as denoted by her white bonnet, and that she is clearly Catholic. The symbolic objects of her religion hang prominently on the wall, her rosary, a black crucifix and an aspersorium, a little pail to hold holy water, inscribed IHS. Known as a Christogram IHS represents the first three letters of the name Jesus from the Greek spelling. In the background, an indistinct unframed picture on the wall probably represents one of many popularly available religious prints, of a Madonna with her blue robes. The absence of a companion (or any sign of one), seems as significant as the heightened presence of her faith.

Although the room is neat and clean, the fire shows merely as a glimmer of light, and the painted render around it is worn away, revealing brick underneath. It is distinctly sparse compared to the grander interiors Helmick painted of the clergy. As was customary until comparatively recent times, the woman smokes a clay pipe, commonly referred to as a dudeen (from Irish dúidín), and apart from her tiny teapot and bottle on the stake-legged creepie stool and a striped hearthrug, there is nothing in the way of luxurious comforts. Behind the distinctive corner-post of her fireside bed can just be seen a red painted corner cabinet displaying a few ornaments.

 

Dr. Claudia Kinmonth M.A. (R.C.A.)

 

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