2017-11-22-2018-11-19 --- 2018-11-19 03:47:30--18
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LOT :76
Seán Keating PPRHA RSA RA (1889-1977)
Estimate EUR : €60,000.00 - €80,000.00
Auction Date : 22-11-2017


Seán Keating PPRHA RSA RA (1889-1977)

Homo Sapiens: An Allegory of Democracy (1929-30)

Oil on canvas, 115 x 95cm (45¼ x 47¼'')
Signed; inscribed with title 'Homo Sapiens' on label verso


Waddington Gallery 1930: RA London 1932: Oldham Art Gallery 1932: Atkinson Art Gallery, Southport 1932: Usher Art Gallery, Lincoln 1932: Exhibition of Irish Art, Chicago Worlds Fair 1933: RHA 1934: Waddington Gallery 1940, 1941: Contemporary Irish Art, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth 1953: Seán Keating Retrospective Exhibition, Hugh Lane Gallery 1963: RHA 1966: Collection of the Artist: Private Collection.



Unlike earlier depictions of Irelands heroic citizens, Seán Keatings Homo Sapiens: An Allegory of Democracy presents universal man estranged from self-created modernity. The painting was Keatings only submission to the Royal Academy Exhibition, London, in 1930, where it was described by one critic as a cry of despair in paint, an acidly truthful satire on human progress. Begun as the Wall Street Crash laid the vagaries of capitalism bare, the artist deliberately depicted his model as ill at ease, confused, and unstable, as if to represent the state of the world at the time. His personal notes on the painting reveal the true meaning:


In all ages and cultures, dress, particularly the hat, has played an important part as a means of arousing emotion, enthusiasm, and fear. So that today an inherited instinct enables us subconsciously to classify men according to their hats  Homo Sapiens revolves around the repulsive gas mask, and the idiotic tin hat  The picture might be described as a criticism of the soundness of mans claim to sapience, expressed in terms of hats, or it might be called a portrait of the hat-fearing animal. (1)


Moreover, and with sceptical reference to manufactured modernity, Keating further commented that the painting represented a universal depiction of man as singularly unimproved in mind or body by the nature and extent of his activities over time. By activities, the artist meant deification of the law, jurisprudence and academia, imperialist aggression, brute force, and the hounding of the common man by dignitaries of all churches, symbolised in the painting by the presence of attendant hats. Homo Sapiens: An Allegory of Democracy was reproduced as poster by Victor Waddington in 1930, and later that year, as if to underscore his opinion of the modern human condition, the artist had the image made into a Christmas card for family and friends. Painted before the Second World War, and exhibited by the artist in various shows until 1963, the allegorical meaning in the work has as much relevance in todays contemporary world has it had in 1930.


Dr Éimear OConnor

October, 2017

Author of Seán Keating: Art, Politics and Building the Irish Nation (Irish Academic Press: Kildare, 2013)


1. Reproduced in Éimear OConnor, Seán Keating: Art, Politics and Building the Irish Nation (Irish Academic Press: Kildare, 2013), pp. 144-45, and fn 60 and 61.



Hammer Price : €62,000.00
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