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Paul Henry RHA RUA (1876-1958) The Potato Diggers (1910-11) Oil on canvas, 71 x 81.5cm (28 x 32'') Signed Provenance: Acquired from the artist in the 1930s and thence by descent to the present owner Exhibited: Paintings of Irish Life: Mr. & Mrs. Paul Henry, Pollock's Gallery, Belfast, 14-27 March 1911 (33, as Potato Digging); Paintings by Mrs. Frances Baker, Grace Henry, Paul Henry, Casimir Dunin-Markiewicz and George Russell (AE), Leinster Hall, Dublin, 16-21 October 1911 (27, as Potato Diggers); Paintings of Co. Mayo, Ireland (Synge's Country) by Mr. and Mrs. Paul Henry, Allied Artists' Association, London, till 17 February 1912 (10, as Potato Diggers); Pictures of the West of Ireland by Mr. & Mrs. Paul Henry, Mills' Hall, Dublin, 16-28 April 1917 (39); (?) Paintings by Mr. & Mrs. Paul Henry, Magee's Gallery, Belfast, from 14 April 1920 (10); Paul & Grace Henry: Irish Life and Landscape, Leicester Galleries, London, from 6 January 1921 (50); New Irish Salon, Mills' Hall, Dublin, 8 February-6 March 1926 (2); Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings, Engravings & Small Sculpture by Artists Resident in Great Britain & the Dominions, Imperial Art Gallery, Imperial Institute, London, 12 April-30 June 1927 (123); Paintings and Charcoals: Paul Henry RHA, Waddington Galleries, Dublin, 21 February- 3 March 1952 (16); An Tostal: Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, International Hotel, Bray, 8-22 April 1953 (49); Some Paintings by Modern Irish Artists, Crawford School of Art, Cork, April-July 1960 (15, reproduced); Paul Henry 1876-1958, retrospective exhibition, Trinity College, Dublin and Ulster Museum, Belfast, October 1973-January 1974 (7, reproduced); Irish Art and Modernism 1880-1950, Lane Gallery, Dublin and Ulster Museum, Belfast, 20 September 1991-26 January 1992 (6, reproduced in colour) Literature: Arthur Power, 'Reassessments-17: Paul Henry,' Irish Times, 29 June 1971, p. 8, reproduced; S. B. Kennedy: Irish Art and Modernism 1920-1949, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Dublin, 1987, vol. 1, pp. 34, 37, reproduced in colour vol. 2, pl.1; 'Paul Henry: An Irish Portrait', Irish Arts Review, Yearbook 1989-90, 1989, p. 45, reproduced in colour p. 46; Irish Times, 20 December 1989, p. 12 reproduced; Irish Art and Modernism 1880-1950, Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, 1991, pp. 19, 23, 216-7 reproduced in colour; Paul Henry, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2000, pp. 46-7 reproduced in colour, 143; Paul Henry: with a catalogue of the Paintings, Drawings, Illustrations, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2007, pp. 34, 42, 62, 88, 89, 154, catalogue number 295, reproduced in colour; Kenneth McConkey, A Free Spirit: Irish Art 1860-1960, London, Antique Collectors' Club and Pyms Gallery, 1990, p.159, reproduced in colour. This is one of Paul Henry's most accomplished works. Henry went to Achill Island for the first time in August 1910. Through the influence of his friends Robert and Sylvia Lynd in London, he had been introduced to the work of W. B. Yeats, whom he had met in Paris in February 1899, and J. M. Synge, whose tragic tone poem, Riders to the Sea, had made a deep impression on him. Synge, he later wrote in his autobiography, An Irish Portrait (London, 1951, p.48), 'touched some chord which resounded as no other music ever had done' and, he tells us, it was of Riders to the Sea that he was thinking as he left London 'on the couple of weeks' holiday' he had promised himself. In moving to Achill Henry had much to loose in London-the Allied Artists' Association, Sickert's 'at homes' in his Fitzroy Street studio, the Tour Eiffel in Charlotte Street, the Café Royal, 'all of them places with blessed memories'. Moreover, he was beginning to make a reputation as a graphic artist on a number of newspapers and journals. Nevertheless, he was drawn to Achill Island-he was to spend nine years there-as a sort of home-coming, for his maternal grandfather, the Rev. Thomas Berry, had preached the gospel on Achill in the mid-1830s. Soon after his arrival on the island Henry made for the village of Keel, on its southern shore. He was enthralled by the life he found there. 'Achill ? called to me as no other place had ever done', he wrote (An Irish Portrait, p.50), yet, he said, although 'the persuasiveness of its voice charmed me', it was not easy to follow its meaning. It was, however, an emotional call and he decided to settle there, 'not as a visitor but to identify myself with its life and to see it every day in all its moods.' In particular the peasantry working in the fields reminded him of Millet, whose work he knew as a student in Paris, and he had read Alfred Sensier's Jean François Millet, Peasant and Painter (London, 1881). Millet's The Spaders, which was reproduced in Sensier's book, deeply impressed on the young Henry as is evident in The Potato Diggers. The fields in Achill were very small-'a man might own a field or two beside his door and another bit of land, about the size of a small suburban front garden, a mile or so away'-having, for hereditary reasons, been sub-divided many times over the years. The Potato Diggers picture was painted at the old post office in Keel, which was run by John and Eliza Barrett, where Henry lodged in 1910 and 1911. The post office was situated in the centre of the village where the former Amethyst Hotel now stands. Henry's delight in his new-found circumstances is palpable in his work done in these first months after his arrival on the island and its 'call' is clear to be seen. In this picture his Post-Impressionist background in Paris came back to him, notably in the composition, with the diagonal direction of the foreground rise where the figures are digging and the opposing diagonal of the background mountain, which is Slievemore. The upward thrust of the two figures bent in toil unites these diagonals with the sky and gives drama to the scene. Each figure, digging with a spade, is almost a direct quote from Millet's The Spaders. Here, like Millet, Henry wanted to paint a scene of life as it really was, the harshness of daily routine being evident from the back-breaking work and the small return of crops produced. 'I have yet to see people who worked so hard for so little gain', he wrote years later. 'It meant incessant toil with the spade', ploughs being useless on those stony fields (An Irish Portrait, p. 57). In pictures such as this, Henry introduced a new realism to Irish art. Gone is the 'stage Irishness' of much nineteenth century art and, as with Millet's field workers, we realize that life was difficult, being neither heroic nor idyllic, and the simple toil of the figures gives a natural dignity to their efforts that is more convincing than much academic painting of the time. In Irish terms, this new realism can be linked back through George Moore to the French tradition of Zola, Flaubert and the Goncourts. Like J. M. Synge's prose based on the life he found on the Aran Islands, Henry's distillation of the harsh life he found on Achill reflects the natural rhythm of life and nature. Often Henry made more than one version of a composition, and the exact pose of the figures depicted in The Potato Diggers was represented in another picture of the same title (Kennedy, 2007, p. 182, catalogue number 417) which dates from 1915-16. In this second, smaller composition, the setting has been expanded to show the sea in the background and the familiar profile of the Cliffs of Menawn and Dooega Head, so that, as here, it must be close to the road between the villages of Keel and Dooagh. In both pictures, the man digging is Johnny Toolis and the potatoes are being harvested from ridges, the traditional method of cultivation on Achill (information from John McNamara, conversation of 30 January 2003). The same two figures appear in yet another Henry composition, The Potato Harvest of 1915-17 (Kennedy, 2007, catalogue number 425). Dr. S.B. Kennedy, May 2013
Estimate EUR : €250,000.00 - €350,000.00
Auction Date : 29-05-2013

Description

Paul Henry RHA RUA (1876-1958) The Potato Diggers (1910-11) Oil on canvas, 71 x 81.5cm (28 x 32'') Signed Provenance: Acquired from the artist in the 1930s and thence by descent to the present owner Exhibited: Paintings of Irish Life: Mr. & Mrs. Paul Henry, Pollock's Gallery, Belfast, 14-27 March 1911 (33, as Potato Digging); Paintings by Mrs. Frances Baker, Grace Henry, Paul Henry, Casimir Dunin-Markiewicz and George Russell (AE), Leinster Hall, Dublin, 16-21 October 1911 (27, as Potato Diggers); Paintings of Co. Mayo, Ireland (Synge's Country) by Mr. and Mrs. Paul Henry, Allied Artists' Association, London, till 17 February 1912 (10, as Potato Diggers); Pictures of the West of Ireland by Mr. & Mrs. Paul Henry, Mills' Hall, Dublin, 16-28 April 1917 (39); (?) Paintings by Mr. & Mrs. Paul Henry, Magee's Gallery, Belfast, from 14 April 1920 (10); Paul & Grace Henry: Irish Life and Landscape, Leicester Galleries, London, from 6 January 1921 (50); New Irish Salon, Mills' Hall, Dublin, 8 February-6 March 1926 (2); Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings, Engravings & Small Sculpture by Artists Resident in Great Britain & the Dominions, Imperial Art Gallery, Imperial Institute, London, 12 April-30 June 1927 (123); Paintings and Charcoals: Paul Henry RHA, Waddington Galleries, Dublin, 21 February- 3 March 1952 (16); An Tostal: Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, International Hotel, Bray, 8-22 April 1953 (49); Some Paintings by Modern Irish Artists, Crawford School of Art, Cork, April-July 1960 (15, reproduced); Paul Henry 1876-1958, retrospective exhibition, Trinity College, Dublin and Ulster Museum, Belfast, October 1973-January 1974 (7, reproduced); Irish Art and Modernism 1880-1950, Lane Gallery, Dublin and Ulster Museum, Belfast, 20 September 1991-26 January 1992 (6, reproduced in colour) Literature: Arthur Power, 'Reassessments-17: Paul Henry,' Irish Times, 29 June 1971, p. 8, reproduced; S. B. Kennedy: Irish Art and Modernism 1920-1949, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Dublin, 1987, vol. 1, pp. 34, 37, reproduced in colour vol. 2, pl.1; 'Paul Henry: An Irish Portrait', Irish Arts Review, Yearbook 1989-90, 1989, p. 45, reproduced in colour p. 46; Irish Times, 20 December 1989, p. 12 reproduced; Irish Art and Modernism 1880-1950, Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, 1991, pp. 19, 23, 216-7 reproduced in colour; Paul Henry, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2000, pp. 46-7 reproduced in colour, 143; Paul Henry: with a catalogue of the Paintings, Drawings, Illustrations, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2007, pp. 34, 42, 62, 88, 89, 154, catalogue number 295, reproduced in colour; Kenneth McConkey, A Free Spirit: Irish Art 1860-1960, London, Antique Collectors' Club and Pyms Gallery, 1990, p.159, reproduced in colour. This is one of Paul Henry's most accomplished works. Henry went to Achill Island for the first time in August 1910. Through the influence of his friends Robert and Sylvia Lynd in London, he had been introduced to the work of W. B. Yeats, whom he had met in Paris in February 1899, and J. M. Synge, whose tragic tone poem, Riders to the Sea, had made a deep impression on him. Synge, he later wrote in his autobiography, An Irish Portrait (London, 1951, p.48), 'touched some chord which resounded as no other music ever had done' and, he tells us, it was of Riders to the Sea that he was thinking as he left London 'on the couple of weeks' holiday' he had promised himself. In moving to Achill Henry had much to loose in London-the Allied Artists' Association, Sickert's 'at homes' in his Fitzroy Street studio, the Tour Eiffel in Charlotte Street, the Caf Royal, 'all of them places with blessed memories'. Moreover, he was beginning to make a reputation as a graphic artist on a number of newspapers and journals. Nevertheless, he was drawn to Achill Island-he was to spend nine years there-as a sort of home-coming, for his maternal grandfather, the Rev. Thomas Berry, had preached the gospel on Achill in the mid-1830s. Soon after his arrival on the island Henry made for the village of Keel, on its southern shore. He was enthralled by the life he found there. 'Achill ? called to me as no other place had ever done', he wrote (An Irish Portrait, p.50), yet, he said, although 'the persuasiveness of its voice charmed me', it was not easy to follow its meaning. It was, however, an emotional call and he decided to settle there, 'not as a visitor but to identify myself with its life and to see it every day in all its moods.' In particular the peasantry working in the fields reminded him of Millet, whose work he knew as a student in Paris, and he had read Alfred Sensier's Jean Franois Millet, Peasant and Painter (London, 1881). Millet's The Spaders, which was reproduced in Sensier's book, deeply impressed on the young Henry as is evident in The Potato Diggers. The fields in Achill were very small-'a man might own a field or two beside his door and another bit of land, about the size of a small suburban front garden, a mile or so away'-having, for hereditary reasons, been sub-divided many times over the years. The Potato Diggers picture was painted at the old post office in Keel, which was run by John and Eliza Barrett, where Henry lodged in 1910 and 1911. The post office was situated in the centre of the village where the former Amethyst Hotel now stands. Henry's delight in his new-found circumstances is palpable in his work done in these first months after his arrival on the island and its 'call' is clear to be seen. In this picture his Post-Impressionist background in Paris came back to him, notably in the composition, with the diagonal direction of the foreground rise where the figures are digging and the opposing diagonal of the background mountain, which is Slievemore. The upward thrust of the two figures bent in toil unites these diagonals with the sky and gives drama to the scene. Each figure, digging with a spade, is almost a direct quote from Millet's The Spaders. Here, like Millet, Henry wanted to paint a scene of life as it really was, the harshness of daily routine being evident from the back-breaking work and the small return of crops produced. 'I have yet to see people who worked so hard for so little gain', he wrote years later. 'It meant incessant toil with the spade', ploughs being useless on those stony fields (An Irish Portrait, p. 57). In pictures such as this, Henry introduced a new realism to Irish art. Gone is the 'stage Irishness' of much nineteenth century art and, as with Millet's field workers, we realize that life was difficult, being neither heroic nor idyllic, and the simple toil of the figures gives a natural dignity to their efforts that is more convincing than much academic painting of the time. In Irish terms, this new realism can be linked back through George Moore to the French tradition of Zola, Flaubert and the Goncourts. Like J. M. Synge's prose based on the life he found on the Aran Islands, Henry's distillation of the harsh life he found on Achill reflects the natural rhythm of life and nature. Often Henry made more than one version of a composition, and the exact pose of the figures depicted in The Potato Diggers was represented in another picture of the same title (Kennedy, 2007, p. 182, catalogue number 417) which dates from 1915-16. In this second, smaller composition, the setting has been expanded to show the sea in the background and the familiar profile of the Cliffs of Menawn and Dooega Head, so that, as here, it must be close to the road between the villages of Keel and Dooagh. In both pictures, the man digging is Johnny Toolis and the potatoes are being harvested from ridges, the traditional method of cultivation on Achill (information from John McNamara, conversation of 30 January 2003). The same two figures appear in yet another Henry composition, The Potato Harvest of 1915-17 (Kennedy, 2007, catalogue number 425). Dr. S.B. Kennedy, May 2013

Hammer Price : €400,000.00
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