Oliver Sheppard


Life
[var. 1864]; b. Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, son of artisan-sculptor; ed. Dublin Metropolitan School of Art; studied at the Royal College of Art, S. Kensington, under Edouard Lanteri [Lantéri]; also Academie Julian and Colarossi’s Academy, Paris; he taught in art schools in Nottingham; displayed in Dublin “The Bard Oisín and Niamh” (1895), figures based on Yeat’s Wanderings of Oisin; also “the Training of Cuchulain”, “The Land of Destiny” (RHA 1897; later called “Lia Fail”); elected MRHA; returned to fill John Hughes’ position as professor of Sculpture in Dublin on Yeats’s instigation, 1902; joined Gaelic Society of Dublin Art School and modelled subjects from Irish mythology;
 
commissioned figure of ‘insurgent peasant’ with pike (croppy) for Wexford 1798 memorial, 1903 completed as “Wexford Pikemen” (unveiled 1905); sculpted the head of Mangan at St. Stephen’s Green, 1906; completed a figure of Fr. Murphy exhorting an insurgent, 1907, unveiled in Enniscorthy, 1908; elected member of Royal Soc. of British Sculptors; sculpted “Death of Cuchulainn”, in 1911-12, selected by de Valera in 1930, and purchased by the Government as a memorial to the 1916 Rising, being unveiled in the GPO in April 1935 (an enlarged version being exhibited in New York World Fair, 1939); sculpted St Finbarr for UCC Chapel; also made statues of Rowan Hamilton and Robert Boyle for Royal College of Science, Merrion St.;
 
completed war memorials for the Four Courts, Dublin, 1920; made a commissioned bust of Kevin O’Higgins; also a bust of William Redmond, Wexford 1930; made a bust of his friend John O'Leary (1904); busts of Patrick Pearse and Cathal Brugha were commissioned by Fianna Fáil govt.; Yeats refers to his “Death of Cuchulainn” obliquely in “The Statues” and Beckett more sarcastically employs it as a prop in Murphy; the Sheppard Papers in the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) contains letters to W. B. Yeats, &c.; there is a 1907 portrait of Sheppard by William Orpen [NGI]; Arthur Power was his pupil; he was a personal friend of Willie Pearse and brought commissions to the Pearse stone-mason business. DIB

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Criticism
The following all by John Turpin: ‘Oliver Sheppard’s 1798 memorials in Co. Wexford’, The Irish Arts Review Yearbook (1990-91), pp.71-80; ‘Cuchulain Lives On’, Circa 69 (Autumn 1994), pp.26-31; ‘Oliver Sheppard’s Celtic Revival Images of Ireland’, Ireland of the Welcomes, 43, 6 (Nov.-Dec. 1994), pp.32-36; ‘Nationalist Ideology and Unionist Ideology in the Sculpture of Oliver Sheppard and Hugh Hughes, 1895-1939’, in Irish Review (Winter-Spring 1997), pp.62-75; ‘1798, 1898 and the Political Implications of Sheppard's Monuments', in History Ireland, VI, 2 (Summer 1998), p.45; Oliver Sheppard 1865-1941 (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001), 256pp.

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Commentary
Brian Fallon, reviewing John Turpin, Oliver Sheppard 1865-1941 (Dublin: Four Courts 2001), in Times Literary Supplement, gives details and remarks: b. Cookstown, son of artisan-sculptor; grew up in Dublin; trained in London and Paris in era of New Sculpture, primarily French and Realist with ties to Symbolists, and dominated by Rodin; ‘Rather surprisingly, Sheppard identified with Irish nationalism as well as the Literary Revival’; “Wexford Pikemen”; Cuchulain bronze in GPO, predating 1916 by some years, ‘placed Sheppard in the nationalist pantheon while his richly gifted contemporary, John Hughes, never lived down his association with Dublin Castle’; many portraits, statuettes, plaques, medals and other small pieces; genial and well-liked. ( “In Brief”, TLS, 3 Aug. 2001, p.28.)

Joan Fowler, ‘Sculpure’, in The Blackwell Companion to Modern Irish Culture, ed. W. J. MacCormack (1999), writes that Sheppard’s ‘naturalism ranges from the powerfully stated bust of James Clarence Mangan in St Stephen's Green to the absurdly idealised bust of Patrick Pearse (1936) in the Dáil Eireann Collection’ and that ‘he is closely associated with nationalism, largely because of his 1798 memorials at Wexford and Enniscorthy and his Death of Cuchulain (1911), which was later placed in the General Post Office in Dublin as a commemoration of the 1916 Rising. Such work is in stark contrast to contemporary European sculputre, where modelling had been rejected in favour of carving, an extensive of the “truth to the materiials” philosophy of early Modernism [which] eventually took root in Ireland throgh a younger generation which included Laurence Campbell (1911-68).’

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Róisín Ní Ghairbhí, Willie Pearse [16 Lives ser.] (Dublin: O'Brien Press 2015), cites “The Training of Cuchulain” and “Isle of Destiny” (later known as “Lia Fáil”); On 11 August 1906, Patrick [Pearse] published an article in An Claidheamh Soluis dwelling at length on Oliver Sheppard’s sculpture "Inis Fail" which, thogh created and exhibitied some years before, was now exhibitied anew at the Oireachtas. “Inis Fail” depicted a half-naked woman and a naked boy standing erect over a fallen figure. Patrick's political reading of the sculpture was printed as part of his review of the Oireachtas Art Exhibition: “Though the world run run with blood, the cause of that Woman shall triumph. Mark next him who lies prone - the victorious vanquished, crowned in death. This is a generation that has fought and fallen - but the woman of destiny blanches not: ‘I have my memories ... and I have my hopes.’” / Patrick identified in the boy’s expression and stance “the growing of a great resolved ... He will fight the fight - win it, it may be, or failing gloriously go serenly to his death.” / This political reading of Sheppard’s sculpture would find echoes in Patrick’s later writings - and in the 1916 Proclamation.’ (q.p.; available online; accessed 10.08.2015.)

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Quotations
Our country’s course seems certain ... The literary and artistic movement, in which I include the Gaelic movement, has changed the face of the town ... Thus in Dublin you would [have] known, the living forces of Ireland shaped and shaping.’ (Q. source; connected with his instauration as Professor of Sculpture in Dublin.)

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Notes
Samuel Beckett makes comical use of Sheppard's statue of Cuchulain in the GPO [General Post Office], Dublin: ‘Suddenly he [Neary] flung aside his hat, sprang forward, seized the dying hero by the thighs and began to dash his head against his buttocks, such as they are (Murphy, 1938; 1963 Edn., p.28); Further, on his lapse of consciousness: ‘Then nothing more [...] until that deathless rump was trying to stare me down’, to which Wylie: ‘But there is no rump [How could there be? What chance would a rump have in the GPO?’ (Ibid., p.36).

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