Le Brocquy developed a mode of portraiture where he abandoned conventional composition and physical accuracy in an attempt to visually articulate his subject’s inner artistic genius. Le Brocquy’s Irish contemporary, Francis Bacon, shared his desire to capture the innerness of a sitter. While Bacon achieved this through the kinetic energy of his brushstrokes, le Brocquy subverted and destabilised the traditional portrait genre further by detaching the head from any form of figuration. The sole focus of the portraits in this series is therefore the mind, devoid of any distraction. By avoiding any of the traps of traditional portraiture such as recognisable physicality, fashion and props, le Brocquy presents timeless representations of his sitters.
Le Brocquy created numerous studies of Shakespeare from 1980-83. In the present work, the subject’s detached head emerges ghost-like from the white abyss of the picture plane. The vivid strokes of saturated colour which resemble anatomical tones puncture the seemingly translucent skin as if revealing the pulsating talent that lay beneath. The almost skull-like representation of Shakespeare gives the impression of an artistic death mask – although the sitter is physically deceased his creative output lives on.
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