The central spine of the room is still furnished with seats, but instead of upholstered benches, where sketching equipment and discarded clothing is included by MacEgan, now there are four Regency scroll- armed benches, and a single white statue. The bronzes which we can see in this painting seem to be Gustav Natorp’s ‘Knuckle-bone player’ (1893) and John Donoghue’s ‘The Young Sophocles leading the Chorus of Victory after the Battle of Salamis’ (NGI.8037). The glossy patina on the latter sculpture and the way it dominates the foreground of the picture, leads the viewer’s eye towards the background, adding drama and height, as he holds his lyre aloft. To the right of this and high up on the top row, is Titian’s ‘The Supper at Emmaus’ (NGI.84) c.1545, which the gallery purchased in 1870. Inside the main arch, now known as the minstrels’ gallery, the dark framed painting seems likely to be Antonio Panico’s ‘Christ on the Cross, with S.S. Francis and Anthony of Padua’.
As fashions for display evolve, such a realistic study is a valuable window onto an authentic interior. A shift in curators’ priorities is apparent. The paintings were protected from the potential of being touched by the public, by the wooden handrail that ran around the gallery’s perimeter, which is absent now. Bannisters considered adequate in 1932 to protect the public from danger, have since had higher rails added. White information labels are now prominent beside each painting, whereas none are visible in MacEgan’s depiction, so presumably the small black on gold labels tacked to the base of each frame, were then considered adequate. Wall colour was equally restrained, in cream, rather than rich blue.
MacEgan’s two related paintings of the National Gallery were exhibited during a period of severe economic depression in Ireland, and his depiction of this interior was perhaps his way of drawing attention to its poor circumstances (emphasised by the discarded clothing and sketchbook). Just two years after this painting was exhibited, the National Gallery’s Director, Thomas Bodkin, who was in any case only employed part time, finally resigned in exasperation over inadequate funding, becoming Director of the Barber Institute instead, in England.
Dr Claudia Kinmonth MRIA (Research Fellow RDS Library & Archives 2018)
Adrian Le Harivel ed., National Gallery of Ireland Illustrated Summary Catalogue of Prints and Sculpture (Dublin, 1988).
Homan Potterton, National Gallery of Ireland Illustrated Summary Catalogue of Paintings (Dublin, 1981).
Myles V. Ronan, Illustrated catalogue Souvenir Exhibition of drawings and paintings by The MacEgan at The Gorry Galleries, 20 Molesworth Str., Dublin (Nov. 25 – Dec. 10, 1940), p.7, illus’ p.9, cat. No.12.
Ann M. Stewart, Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts, Index of Exhibitors 1826-1979 (Dublin, 1986).
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