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35

PROPERTY FROM THE JOSEPH & BRENDA CALIHAN COLLECTION

John Luke
PAX
JUMP TO LOT
35

PROPERTY FROM THE JOSEPH & BRENDA CALIHAN COLLECTION

John Luke
PAX
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Irish Art

|
London

John Luke
1906 - 1975
PAX
signed and dated l.r.: J. LUKE./ 1943; inscribed on a label attached to the reverse: No 2 Medium - Oil/  "PAX"./ NOT FOR SALE/ John Luke/ Knappagh House/ Killylea/ Co. Antrim; further signed and inscribed with a detailed inscription of the artist's painting technique on another label attached to the reverse
tempera and oil on board
29.5 by 39cm., 11¾ by 15½in.
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Provenance

Mr P. Terris, thence by descent to Mr B. Terris;
Christie's, London, 28 June 1995, lot 106, where purchased by the present owners

Exhibited

Belfast, Arts and Crafts exhibition, Feis Béal Feirste, May 1944;
Armagh, Arts and Crafts exhibition, Armagh Feis, June 1944;
Belfast, Ulster Academy of Arts, Annual Exhibition, October 1944, no.25;
Belfast, Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, Ulster Artists Exhibition: The Work of John Luke, 4-28 September 1946, no.34;
Belfast, CEMA Gallery, Exhibition of Paintings by John Luke, November 1948, no.14;
Dublin, Royal Hibernian Academy, Annual Exhibition, Summer 1950, no.82;
Belfast, Queen’s University Common Room, John Luke Exhibition, 1960, no.12;
Belfast, Ulster Museum, John Luke (1906-1975), 27 January–4 March 1978, no.43, with tour to Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin

Literature

‘Art Exhibition Reaches Higher Level’, The Northern Whig, 19 October 1944, p. 2;
John Hewitt, John Luke (1906-1975), Belfast and Dublin, Arts Councils of Ireland, 1978, p.47, illustrated p.49;
Joseph McBrinn, Northern Rhythm: The Art of John Luke (1906-1975), Belfast, National Museums Northern Ireland, 2012, p.51

Catalogue Note

In October 1944 when John Luke first showed his painting Pax, at the annual exhibition of the Ulster Academy of Arts in Belfast, Northern Ireland, reviewers were quick to notice his characteristic blend of modernism, fantasy and technical precision had a new resolve: ‘one doubts if John Luke has ever achieved anything lovelier’ (The Northern Whig, 19 October 1944, p. 2). Critics further noted that the painting departed from his work of the 1930s in fully realizing his desire ‘to arrange and represent in a personal and orderly manner the spatial relations of forms and masses’, as Luke had argued in the ‘symposium’ section of the Ulster Unit exhibition catalogue a decade earlier. 

Luke had, in fact, ceased painting at the outbreak of the war and his self-imposed exile from his native city. This painting was to be a major turning point for the artist. It remains one of the most exquisitely beautiful paintings of his entire oeuvre – remarkably small like a miniature yet imbued with a radiant and delicate luminosity and wrought by a profound, almost religious, workmanship that would become his leitmotif. Named in tribute to the ‘peace’ he found in Knappagh, Killylea in Co. Armagh, the painting depicts a pastoral scene, an Arcadian vision of the local landscape populated by rolling hills, glassy lakes and harmoniously populated by vernacular buildings, figures and a whippet that look like emblems drawn from medieval heraldry or a Renaissance altarpiece. Completed in the summer of 1943 Pax broke a dark four-year cycle in which Luke was almost overwhelmed by depression. Since his arrival in Armagh he had been preoccupied with a teaching job he had taken in a local school out of financial necessity and somewhat unexpectedly he began to give what was left of his time to gardening. Being an evangelical vegetarian it was here that he was able for the first time to grow his own food. Impassioned commitment to a small kitchen garden perhaps helps explain, in part, his turn to the landscape after the experiments, in painting and printmaking, with portraits, still life and urban imagery, as well as with sculpture and mural decoration, in the 1930s.

Pax was immediately bought by his friend Major Paul Terris on whose farm Luke and his mother would live for the duration of the war. Invitations to send the painting to London or Dublin were declined and Luke remained even unsure whether to let the painting go to the Ulster Academy exhibition in the autumn of 1944. Sensing his difficulty, Major Terris encouraged Luke to show the painting first at the Arts and Crafts sections of the Belfast and Armagh feiseanna (festivals) that summer, where it received rapturous praise. Before committing the painting to the Ulster Academy show, in the late summer of 1944 Luke invited his friend, the poet, museum curator and art critic, John Hewitt and his wife, the potter Ruby Black, to come stay with him at Knappagh. Luke wanted Hewitt’s opinion of Pax. The trip, that August, made a strong impact on Hewitt who penned a long poem about it, (‘Freehold’), in which he paid tribute to his friend, ‘the tall dark painter who / no careless line or lazy contour drew’, clearly seeing the link between Luke’s identity as an artist and his new life in ‘organic horticulture’. Hewitt saw in Pax a new beginning for Luke joyously reflected in ‘the buoyancy of his spirits’. Indeed, Luke wrote to Hewitt in December 1943 describing Pax as ‘bright and luminous, yet rich and colourful. Very precise yet soft. Firm but yet gentle. Smooth yet lively. Broad yet detailed’ stopping short of calling it ‘material yet spiritual’. Amusingly, he continued – it is, ‘Gloriously, Brilliant Technicolor. It’s Stupendous. It’s COLOSSAL! but it is only 15 x 11”. At the end of their visit the Hewitts commissioned a landscape painting from Luke to mark their tenth wedding anniversary. This painting, known as Road to the West (coll. Ulster Museum), continued Luke’s exploration of a visionary yet modern-day ‘et in arcadia ego’ that was first conceived in Pax.

Dr. Joseph McBrinn

Irish Art

|
London