Grace Henry has too often been under the shadow of her husband Paul, yet she was a talented artist herself and a pioneering woman painter of the early twentieth century. She studied in Brussels and at the Paris ateliers from 1900 and it was there that she met and married Paul in 1903. She was 35 years of age and Paul 28; although they were later to separate, Paul said the marriage was a happy one. According to S. B. Kennedy, Paul appears around 37 at the time of the present painting, not long after the couple made their first trip to Achill in 1910, and which had such a formative impact on Paul's painting career. What was intended as a short holiday turned into eight years – Achill represented everything Paul wanted and here he established himself as a painter of Irish landscape and peasant life. Grace was less taken with life in Achill, and regularly visited Dublin and London. However, the work she produced in Achill shows her artistic talent, boldly ranging from near abstract to highly atmospheric renderings of the landscape.
After Achill, the Henrys returned to Dublin and founded the Dublin Painter’ Society in 1920 as an alternative venue to the Royal Hibernian Academy. By the end of the decade the couple separated; however, no such tension is evident in the present work. Paul cuts an appropriately bohemian artistic figure surrounded by pots and flowers. Relaxing with one leg crossed over the other, he sports a wide-brimmed hat that he typically wore and smokes a pipe. Not only does this portrait provide a rare view of the man behind some of Ireland’s most recognisable paintings, it also displays Grace’s painterly technique and confident, experimental approach. While Grace painted portraits throughout her career, only two are known to exist by her of Paul – one in the Ulster Museum, Belfast, and the present example.
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