In her published memoir Glenavy tried to account for the contemporary hostility to the painting: ‘It portrayed an imaginary woodland scene with people having a picnic; a female centaur has galloped through the wood and beckons to a young man in the picnic party who is leaping madly forward to follow her. The picture was hung in the Royal Hibernian Academy exhibition – I had just been made a member of the Academy. Richard Orpen, who was already an Academician, was very keen that my picture should be bought by the Haverty Trust, which was like the Chantry Bequest in Burlington House. Unfortunately, some of the members of the committee considered that it was ‘obscene’, so they did not buy it. My meaning, if any, had been that the unknown was more interesting than the known. Next year I sent the picture to the Royal Academy, where it was hung on the line, got good notices, and was caricatured by George Morrow in Punch under the title ‘The Home Wrecker’’ (Glenavy, 1964, p.148). More recent critics have followed Glenavy’s reading of the painting as ‘a sort of Thessalian allegory of desire’ which is both surreal and subversive (Kennedy, 1991, p.184; Bowe, 1995, p.169; Crookshank and Glin, 2002, p.286; Barber, 2013, pp.78-79).
Born into a cultured, well-healed Dublin family Beatrice Glenavy (née Elvery) was one of several important women artists who helped modernise early twentieth century Irish art. Her mother, her mother’s family (notably the Edinburgh-based Phoebe Traquair) and her sisters were all artistically gifted. From an early age she showed precocious talent. Entering the Dublin Metropolitan school of Art in 1896 aged just 13, where she struck up a life-long friendship with the school’s ‘star’ pupil William Orpen, she then went onto to study in London and Paris. She studied sculpture, painting, decorated furniture, drew illustrations (including biting caricature), designing everything from small, exquisite domestic stained glass panels to metalwork to book covers, working prodigiously and winning prizes everywhere she studied or exhibited. She won the Taylor competition at the Royal Dublin Society over four consecutive years eliciting disbelief from the judges that all the work was by her own hand. Aside from her painting she is best known for the work she did at Sarah Purser’s An Túr Gloine stained glass co-operative and for Elizabeth Yeats at the Cuala Press.
Feted in Dublin for her extraordinary physical beauty, especially her long red hair, she was sculpted by her Dublin art school contemporary Oliver Sheppard as ‘Roisin Dubh’ for the memorial to the poet James Clarence Magnan on St. Stephen’s Green (1909). She was painted by her friend William Orpen as a symbol of Ireland’s rebirth in the early twentieth century, as a Colleen (1908) and as Bridget (1909). In 1912 she married the barrister Gordon Campbell and moved to London. Here, she quickly became associated with Bloomsbury circles and the writers D.H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield and S.S. Koteliansky. She and her husband returned to Ireland and settled in Dublin after the war. In the 1920s she turned to painting exclusively. Of all her work The Intruder remains exceptional and formed the central focus in her two major solo exhibitions, in 1935 at the St. Stephen’s Green Galleries, and in 1955 at the Victor Waddington Galleries, South Anne Street, Dublin. It is unquestionably a major work.
Dr. Joseph McBrinn
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