Paul Henry (1877-1958)


Life
b. 11 April 1877, 61 University Rd., Belfast, one of four sons of Robert Michael Henry, Baptist minister (d.1891), and his wife Kate Anne [née Berry]; ed. RBAI [var. Methodist college], apprentice designer Broadway Damask Co., Belfast; ed. Belfast School of Art, studying under Thomas Bond Walker from the age of 15, before moving to Paris, 1898 [aetat. 22]; entered Académie Julien and worked in Whistler’s studio; influenced by Impressionists Cézanne and Gauguin and by the peasant subjects of Millet; moved to London, 1900; shared rooms with Robert Lynd both there and in Guildford, Surrey, until 1912; loosely associated with Walter Sickert and the Fitzroy Street Group; m. Grace (née Mitchell), also a painter; visited Achill on Lynd’s advice, 1910; struck by the rugged scenery and simple life of the people and influenced by J. M. Synge whose works ‘touched some chord no other music ever had’; tore up his return ticket and remained on the island for ten years;
 
settled in Dublin in 1919; painted “The Lobster Fisherman at Dusk”, 1920 - his last to feature a human figure - preferring the idealised and contemplative natural scenes of in “Dawn, Killary Harbour”, 1922-23 [Ulster Museum], in colours reminiscent of Whistler’s cold tonality; his “Connemara” used as poster by London Midland & Scottish Railway Company, later providing the stereotypal view of the West of Ireland; elected RHA 1929; designed posters for London, Midland and Scottish Railawy and Irish Tourist Board; lost his sight in 1945; lived in Bray thereafter; issued An Irish Portrait (1951), an unreliable autobiography; d. of Grace, 1953; rem. Mabel Young; d. 24 Aug., Enniskerry; an exhibition of his work was shown at the Hyde Gallery of Trinity College, Dublin, in 1973; a National Gallery of Ireland retrospective exhibition was held in Feb.-May 2004 [var. 2003], with a catalogue raisonnée; Henry generally exhibited his new work in The Combridge Gallery on Duke Street. DIB BREF DUB
 

Auctions: “The Milk Cart” sold for £95,000 in Dec. 2000; “Dooega, Achill Island, County Mayo” got £150,000 at Adam’s in 2006 - reaching 4 times the estimate; “The Bog Road” was discovered on a BBC Antique Roadshow in Bath in 2010 having been originally purchased from the artist by Wilfred Toone, founder of Castle Park School, Dalkey in 1938 [infra].

“The Potato Diggers” (1910-11), depicting Michael and Margaret Toolis at work in the fields on Achill, was purchased for £300 in the 1930s and offered at auction by a member of the purchaser's family for an estimated €250-350,000 in May 2013. Also offered at Adam’s on the same occasion was “Thatched Cottage with Lake and Mountains Beyond”, while a pencil drawing by Henry called “Connemara Woman” and an early oil estimated respectively at €3-5,00 and €8-10,000 were offered by Whyte’ in the same week. (See Michael Parsons [art/antiques column], in The Irish Times, 25 May 2013.)

 
 
 
Images
  • “The Bog Road”
  • “Potato Diggers”

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Works
  • An Irish Portrait, foreword by Sean O’Faolain (1951);
  • Further Reminiscences (Belfast: Blackstaff 1973), 80pp.

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Criticism
S. B. Kennedy, Paul Henry, with an essay by Síghle Bhreathnach-Lynch (London: Yale UP 2000), 175 pp., ill., ports.; S. B. Kennedy, Paul Henry (NLI/Yale UP 2003), 144pp., ill. [catalogue raisonnée; 30 b/w; 70 col.]; Kennedy, Paul Henry: Paintings, Drawings and Illustrations (Yale UP 2007), 416pp., ill. [350 b&w & 120 col.].

See also Mary Cosgrove, ‘Paul Henry and Irish Modernism’ [PhD thesis] (Univ. of Ulster 1995); Cosgrove, ‘Paul Henry and Achill Island’, in U. Kockel, ed., Landscape, Heritage and Identity [Case Studies in Irish Ethnography] (Liverpool UP 1995) [q.pp.], and Cosgrove, ‘Location and Dislocation in Irish Modernism’, in Art and Centres of Conflict - Outer and Inner Realities [AICA Congress, 1997] (International Association of Art Critics 2001), pp.118-20.

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Commentary
Aidan Dunne, feature-article on Paul Henry retrospective exhibition, National Gallery/Millenium Wing, in The Irish Times (18 Feb. 2003), “Weekend”, p.7: b. 1876, Belfast, one of four sons of Kate Anne and Robert Michael Henry (d.1891); briefly worked as linen damask designer; plan to study at Hermoker School of Painting foiled by family finance; supported by a cousin who returned from Melbourne; travelled to Paris; travelled to Achill for 2-week holiday with his wife Grace, summer 1910; tore up his return ticket, remaining more or less until 1919, at which time they moved to Dublin; eyesight failed after apparent stroke in 1946; thereafter devoted to writing his autobiography, An Irish Portrait; marriage failed in 1920s; Grace entered a relationship with Stephen Gwynn, he with Mabel Young; sep. 1929; m. Young at Grace’s death, 1953. Dunne writes: ‘[He] turned his back on a promising career in the London art world [... H]is instinct was unerringly correct. Achill, which more or less became their home until 1919, when they moved to Dublin, was the making of Henry as an artist. It provided a rich fund of direct inspiration and served as a base for travels in the West and North West, allowing him to produce an exceptional body of work that occupies a central, pivotal place in the history of Irish art and still largely defines how we see the west of Ireland. / While his conversion to Achill was instantaneous and its impact on his work was immediately evident, he needed several years to devise a satisfactory way of dealing iwth the overwhelming qualities of environment of the western seaboard. / His intiial absorption in the texture of island life and the circumstances of the iisalnders themselves modulated only over a considerable time into a feeling for the landscape. And, while several of his paintings involve figures, on the whole his landscape work, exceptional in its spare intensity, represents the core of his artistic achievement.’ Further, [of contemporary Irish artists following the French manner:] ‘Problems arose when it came to the question of devising sometin distinctly their own based on the given, continental model. [...] Some, like the exceptionaly capable Roderic O’Conor, simply went absent without leave in terms of their Irishness. [...] Henry had no strong political opinions or nationalistic leanings [..] His remarkable achivement was to take a contemporary artistic language and personalise it in relation to a specifically Irish subject matter, in a way that is both unmistakably Irish and stylistically challenging. / If aspects of his work seem hackneyed to us now, it is because he became a victim of his own success, spawning countless imitations – including, admittedly, some self-imitation. […] enthusiastically adopted and promulgated by a Free State with a cultural profile to define and promote. / Henry believed that the essence of Irishness, the country’s soul, is wrapped up in this face of the country and it’s people.’ [ top ]

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[Q.auth.] ‘Paul Henry: a dissenting voice …’, “Fine Arts” [column], The Irish Times (8 March 2002), Weekend, p.21; quotes extensively from article by Dorothy Walker in Hibernia [Magazine] (1973): Quotes Dorothy Walker in an article first pub. In Hibernia, 1973, and rep. in latest issue of Irish Arts Review. Having seen a show of Paul Henry’s work at Trinity College, she wrote: ‘I should like to be able to pinpoint what makes these paintings so flat and dull; it is partly a question of simple composition: the elements of the painting are loose, the forms don’t lock, there is no tension ... neither do they exhale any joy of painting the landscape ... there is also a curious quirk of composition in that, time and again, the eye is left suspended towards the mid right of the painting for no apparent reason.’ Further: ‘Painting ... boils down to a series of decisions: where to put the horizon, which part of the scene to paint. I think it in these basic decisions that Paul Henry lacked precision and so failed to give his paintings bide, that edge of necessity which would make it gripping and would make it art.’Article notes that a typical west of Ireland landscapes by Henry is selling for upwards of E30,000 while The Lobster Fisher set a new auction record at £298,000 in in London, May 2002.

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Quotations
Impressed? ‘The French Impressionist movement which had left such a mark upon the whole of European Painting, had passed without leaving a ripple, apparently, upon the complacent self-satisfaction of this country.’ (Further Reminiscences, Belfast: Blackstaff 1973, p.68; quoted in S. B. Kennedy, Irish Art & Modernism, 1991, p.18.)

Rediscovered in 2010 having been originally purchased from the artist by Wilfred Toone, founder of Castle Park School, Dalkey in 1938, “The Old Bog Road” (1938) was offered at Adam’s fine art sale in Dublin, Wed. 13 Oct. 2010 for an estimated £60,000. See image and reports in Irish Independent (11 Oct. 2010), The Irish Times (9 Oct. 2010), Weekend, p.21, and BBC NI News (9 Oct. 2010).
[Irish Independent photograph; online at 20.10.2010]

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References
Irish Arts Review: Price Guide to Irish Art (Sept 2000-Aug. 2001) lists Portrait of Percy O’Brien [£2,100 Whytes]; On Achill Sound; The Milk Cart [£95,000, James Adams]; Landscape; River Landscape; Lough Derg; A Coastal View; Western Landscape; A yawl, Connemara; Come to Ulster for a Better Holiday; Dingle Peninsula, Kerry; Donegal, Ireland for Holidays [£998]; Christies S. Kensington, ; Dooega Head, Achill Island, Connemara; On Killary Bay, Connemara [£24,000, Christies London]; Sheephaven, Donegal; Winter landscape; Knockmealdown Mts., Co. Waterford; Landscape with Cottage; The Bog Road; A Sea Lough in the West; Cottage and Turf Stacks and Trees in a Mountain Setting; Cottage and Turf Stacks and Trees in a Mountain Landscape; A Connemara Village; By a Connemara Lake [60,000]; Killary Harbour, Connemara [£15,000 de Vere White].

Sale price: Altan Lough, Donegal; or, Lake of the Hillock(q.d.), by Paul Henry offered at an estimated €40-50,000 in Whyte’s Exceptional Irish Art Sale, 28 Nov. 2011, at RDS, Clyde Halls, Anglesea Rd., Dublin. Also, Reflections Across the Bogby Paul Henry - sold 60 years before for £60 - offered for €70-100,000 at De Veres Irish Art Auction, Berkeley Hotel, Lansdowne Rd., 29 Nov. 2011. (See The Irish Times, 26 Nov. 2011.)

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