An Unexpected Highlight at the National Gallery of Ireland

In Ireland, Travel 2011 on February 21, 2011 at 11:02 am

Walking through the galleries of a well stocked art museum is always a favorite activity of mine. I enjoy the hushed environment, the descriptions detailing the artist’s influences, and, of course, the works of art themselves.

Perhaps this is because my grandmother was an artist, indulging my creativity by letting me use nearly all of her blue oil paint to color the sky of my masterpiece A3 paper displaying two cats. Note: I’m not really sure what exactly influenced the artist here as I’ve never particularly like cats.

And if it wasn’t her influence that led me to my love of art, maybe it was the fact that one of my favorite books growing up was Linnea in Monet’s Garden, a book telling of a little girl in New York who travels with her elderly neighbor to Paris just to see the masterpieces of waterlilies and the famed Japanese bridge: a trip I made myself four years ago, and one I’ll make again sometime in April.

Whatever it was, you can rest assured that I’ll be visiting art museums and galleries nearly everywhere I go. I will do my best not to drone on about the colors and shading and the fact that such and such was a student of someone who taught him to paint a certain way until he rebelled and found his own style, thus making him the most prominent artist of his time.

However, when I encounter something particularly interesting, you can bet I’ll share it here; and today, at the National Gallery of Ireland – still sitting in the foyer – I’ve got one of these cases.

Walking through the corridors here, most everything is fairly standard – the wooden floors, the darkly colored walls, and the ornately carved frames housing masterpieces from Ireland’s best. After winding through the classics and reading about the depictions of medieval life, you make it to the Yeats Gallery, paying homage to Ireland’s most famous and versatile artist Jack B.Yeats (yes, William Butler’s brother). Then, tucked in a corner and easily overlooked by a visitor, is a small room only open to 25 visitors at a time, labelled simply “Beit Wing – Highlights of the Collection.”

Entering through a carefully controlled sliding door, the small crimson room displays the most valuable pieces of the gallery’s collections. Rembrandt and early Van Gogh are both represented here, alongside works of art created by other renowned masters from across Europe.

Gallery guests mill about from painting to painting, reading the descriptions of Christian influences, symbolic light sources and perplexing color palettes; and on the familiar wooden floor are some children, perhaps more interesting than the paintings themselves.

A grouping of primary school art students, accompanied by their teacher, have all settled themselves in front of the painting of their choice – charcoal, and pencils and erasers around them, large spiral-bound tablets of paper on their laps.

One little boy, not more than nine or ten scrutinizes a large work by Carvaggio and diligently tries to get the shading across Christ’s face just right, as Judas delivers that fateful kiss.

Another young lady, with the teacher by her side, is courageously trying to duplicate an entire painting by Vermeer, sketching away at a servant observing a mistress during a letter writing session.

And yet another little girl tucks herself neatly by the door and, using a fat blue pencil, boldly fills in the mandolin she has drawn on her own personal Picasso.

I must admit, art was not at the front of my mind when considering what to see in Ireland. I think of it more when dreaming of trips to France and Italy. However, I’ll rarely pass up the opportunity to mosey past a good collection, and today’s experience rivals times I’ve spent at the Met, the Uffizi, and even the Louvre. Not only did I get to enjoy the works from Ireland’s artistic past, but I also got a glimpse of its future.

Below are web images of the paintings mentioned here as well as my personal favorite painting from Ireland.

“Liffey Swim” – one of Jack B. Yeats’ most iconic early pieces – Yeats Gallery

“Taking of the Christ” – Carvaggio – Beit Wing

“Woman Writing a Letter” – Vermeer – Beit Wing

“Still Life with a Mandolin” – Picasso – Beit Wing

“Sunlight” – William Orpen – Millennium Wing (contemporary Irish art) . . . My favorite


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