Details & Cataloguing

A Living Legacy: Irish Art from the Collection of Brian P. Burns


Kathleen Fox
1880 - 1963
signed l.l.: K. Fox; also signed and inscribed on the reverse: K. Fox/ painting
oil on canvas
61 by 51cm., 24 by 20in.
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Dillon Antiques, Dublin


Boston, Boston College Museum of Art, America’s Eye: Irish Paintings from the Collection of Brian P. Burns, 26 January - 19 May 1996, no.29, illustrated p.111, with tour to Dublin, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, 19 June - 25 August 1996 and New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, 25 September 1997 - 4 January 1998

Catalogue Note

Probably painted around 1920, Self-Portrait depicts the artist standing, brush and palette in hand, in front of a canvas mounted on an easel. The easel, visible to the right of the painting, stands in front of a chimneypiece, in a large room that has been pressed into service as an artist’s studio. With its chandelier, decorative ceramics and embroidered furnishings, the room gives a good idea of the upper-middle class Dublin background into which, in 1880, Fox was born. However, her self-portrait contains ambiguities. The artist gazes out self-confidently, presumably looking into a large mirror that she is using to compose the self-portrait. But there are other paintings—or possibly mirrors—in the room, One, leaning on the floor behind the artist, has an image of coats and hats. Another sits on top of the chimneypiece, while a third, on the wall behind the artist, may be a painting—or equally a mirror, reflecting people clustered around a table, discussing some urgent matter. Such visual ambiguities connect this work with Velasquez’s Las Meninas, and also with paintings by William Orpen, who taught Fox, and was equally beholden to Velasquez in the use of mirrors and interiors in compositions (see lot 71).

Born into a military family—her father was an officer in the British army—Fox attended the Metropolitan School of Art, where she was a student of Orpen. She continued her studies under Orpen in London, eventually becoming his assistant. In 1908, participating in the National Competition, she was awarded a gold medal for an enamelled bowl, that was exhibited at the South Kensington Museums (now the V & A), along with other prize-winning works. While still a student, in addition to enamelling and metalwork, Fox produced superb carved wood and textile designs. However she is best known as a painter: her Fish Market in Bruges, (Limerick City Art Gallery) dates from 1911, when she travelled to France and Belgium. During World War I, she lived in London, Paris and Bruges, but, returning to Ireland in 1916, she witnessed tumultuous events during the Easter Rising, in particular the surrender of the Volunteers who had occupied the College of Surgeons on Stephen’s Green.

Notwithstanding her family background, or perhaps because of it, she painted several canvases recording these events. Her The Arrest, painted in 1916, depicts the surrender at the College of Surgeons. Among the rebels depicted is Constance Markiewicz, a friend of the artist. Fox also painted a portrait of Grace Gifford, political activist and widow of Joseph Mary Plunkett, who was executed for his role in the Rising. Sympathetic to the Republican cause, Fox concealed these paintings from the authorities, during the period of martial law that followed the Rising. Her husband Lieutenant Cyril Pym having been killed in action, Fox, a war widow with a young daughter, lived a peripatetic life during the 1920s, moving between Nice, London and Dublin. After a gap, she took up painting again, exhibiting with the New English Art Club, the Royal Academy, and the RHA. During the 1940s and 50s, she specialized in flower studies and still lives, and late in life produced a set of Stations of the Cross, for the Milltown Institute in Dublin.

Peter Murray

A Living Legacy: Irish Art from the Collection of Brian P. Burns