Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Academy House (RHA HQ) in Abbey St. on fire during the Rising

I actually went to the exhibition to see this picture and ask if I could use it in a talk I'm giving on Gordon Brewster. The picture depicts the blazing Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) building in Abbey Street in 1916 during the Rising. The annual exhibition was on at the time and all the exhibits were lost in the blaze.
“Everything was destroyed. The studios; the Academy collection; all the records; everything they’d built up from 1823 and before that — including an entire suite of Goya’s ‘Disasters of War’ from when the French invaded Spain. The Keeper Joseph Malachy Kavanagh ran out of the building saving the charter, some account books and the president’s medal.”
Mick O'Dea, artist.
The very discerning viewer may notice "two prints from Goya's Disasters of War floating in the lower right hand side, one of the prints depicts a Spanish guerrilla being executed by the French, all lost in the fire."

Gordon Brewster's exhibits at the RHA

Two of the exhibits destroyed were by Gordon Brewster, graduate of the Metropolitan School of Art (later to become NCAD), chief cartoonist with Independent Newspapers and subsequently in charge of the art department of the newspaper.

The British Hun (Britannia) and the gunship Helga

However, I soon came under the spell of the exhibition as a whole. The above is a depiction of the general onslaught by the British forces on the city centre during the Rising. As well as the cardboard sculpture of the British Hun, it includes a representation of the gunboat Helga, which bombarded the centre, and bodies all over the place.

A very British Hun

I must say the Hun really got to me. Shades of Darth Vader, were it not for the clear visual gender identification.

Dominatrix Britannia

Maybe it just has something to do with women in uniform. Anyway, best to get back onto neutral ground and let the song speak for itself: "While Britannia's Huns, with their long range guns sailed out o'er the foggy dew".

A riderless horse flees from the GPO

Not forgetting the GPO and the general slaughter on the streets of Dublin.

The fall of Nelson in 1966

Despite an intensive bombardment of O'Connell St., Admiral Nelson, on his high perch, was one of the three major monuments which escaped virtually unscathed. It took another fifty years to unseat him, so to speak. So while the exhibition is about 1916 it also takes in the "act of war" perpetrated in the same location on the 50th anniversary of the Rising. And that blow completed three strikes against the buildings of Francis Johnston in the city centre: 1916 - GPO & RHA HQ; and 1966 - Nelson.

Daniel O'Connell with his perennial companion

I was going to say that Daniel O'Connell must have looked on all of this with amusement but, given how he backed down on Clontarf, he must really have been appalled.

General view of the exhibition

This room of the exhibition, consists of four very large canvases and a series of cardboard sculptures by Mick O'Dea, currently President of the RHA. The ensemble is a provocative piece of work, particularly when you take into account the controversy surrounding the period and its fleshing out with evidence based historical research since the naïve triumphalism of the fiftieth anniversary in 1966.

A panel of 18 of the 20 prtraits in the exhibition
of those directly involved in the Rising

An equally important element of the exhibition, and for some the most important part given Mick's reputation as a portrait painter, is a vast panel of portraits which you encounter on your way to the room described above. These include the 1916 leaders but also others directly involved in the Rising.

You can read an excellent in depth interview with Mick by Joe Ó Muircheartaigh here and check out the 1916 room in Coláiste Mhuire referred to in that interview here.

You can hear Mick's interview with Seán Rocks on the RTÉ Radio 1 ARENA programme here and check out Mick's own website here. I've blogged the catalogue here

Todays Academy House in Ely Place

The current exhibition, in Gallery 1, which ends on 21 February, will be followed, on 22 March, by one in the Foyer about the events which took place at Academy House in 1916 and the subsequent history of the annual exhibition and RHA premises.

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