The 1900s was a time of great change and turmoil in Ireland. There was the Easter Rising in 1916, followed by the War of Independence from 1919-21. Ireland was established as Free State in 1922, igniting the Irish Civil War which lasted from 1922-23. During this time Irish painters felt that it was their duty to seek out and paint all things that were truly Irish. They flocked to the West of Ireland in order to paint the wild landscape and farming communities that we still associate with Ireland today.

Important painters from this era:

  • Sir John Lavery (1856-1941)

Lavery was born in Belfast and studied art in Glasgow. He met his wife Hazel in 1909. She was an Irish-American known for her beauty. Lavery painted his wife over 400 times. His most famous portrait of her is his Portrait of Lady Lavery as Kathleen Ni Houlihan, 1928. This portrait circulated on Irish banknotes from 1928 until the 1970s and remained as a watermark until the advent of the Euro in 2002. Note the appearance of Lady Lavery as a typical Irish 'cailín' with red hair and red lips.


  • Sean Keating (1889-1977)

Keating was born in Limerick and studied under Sir William Orpen at the Metropolitan School of Art, Dublin. He spent years on the Aran Islands studying the landscape, the people, and their dialect. His painting style is realistic and he made many iconic paintings of the Irish War of Independence. He openly supported the Irish volunteers, prior to the civil war, producing heroic portraits of the Irish Republican Army (Men of the South, 1921-22). He became the “official” artist of the Free State.

  • Paul Henry (1877-1958)

Henry was born in Belfast. Like many artists he travelled to London and Paris to view the modern artworks on show there. He spent ten years on Achill Island painting landscapes and skies. His landscapes have become synonymous with imagery associated with the West of Ireland. In 1925 he held an exhibition called Pictures of Beautiful Ireland. His paintings of Connemara and Lough Derg were later reproduced as posters by the London, Midland and Scotland railway board and used to promote Ireland to tourists.


  • Jack B. Yeats (1871-1956)

Yeats was born in London but grew up in Sligo. His brother was W.B. Yeats, the famous poet and playwright. Yeats cannot be considered a truly nationalistic painter, however, his paintings still contributed to the creation of a national identity. His works accurately record life in Ireland in the 1900s. His painting, The Liffey Swim, 1923, documents the crowd as they gather around the River Liffey to cheer on the swimmers.


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