National Portrait Gallery Presents Conquering England
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National Portrait Gallery Presents Conquering England
William Butler Yeats by John Butler Yeats, 1900. Copyright: National Gallery of Ireland.



LONDON, UK.- The National Portrait gallery presents Conquering England - Ireland in Victorian London, on view through June 19, 2005.

'England had conquered Ireland, so there was nothing for it but to come over and conquer England.' George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw's comment sums up not only his own dazzling career, but the experience of many talented Irish people in nineteenth-century London. This exhibition explores the diversity of the Irish in London and their influence in the visual arts, literature, theatre, journalism and politics.

Featuring portraits of iconic personalities such as Shaw himself, Oscar Wilde, W.B.Yeats and the politician Charles Stewart Parnell, "Conquering England" also includes émigré Irish painters, sculptors, politicians, journalists, theatrical entrepreneurs (including Bram Stoker, famous as the author of Dracula) and, not least, a group of largely forgotten female Irish models in the London art world of the late nineteenth century, whose beauty inspired artists such as James Jacques Tissot and James McNeill .Whistler.

The exhibition offers a wide range of visual material from fine paintings by artists as diverse as Daniel Maclise, Ford Madox Brown and John Lavery and iconic works such as John Butler Yeats's portrait of his eldest son W.B. Yeats, to Oscar Wilde's early draft of The Importance of Being Earnest. Equally fascinating are more everyday items: pages from popular magazines, sketches of politicians caught 'off duty', book illustrations, and theatre posters - ephemera which convey vital moments in cultural history, for example when Yeats's first performed play The Land of Heart's Desire and Shaw's first smash hit Arms and the Man were put on together at the Avenue Theatre.

The reign of Queen Victoria was characterized by a contentious and contradictory relationship between Ireland and Britain, linked in the 'Union' since 1800. Ireland frequently dominated politics during the period with the Parnellite Irish Party holding the balance of power at Westminster in the 1880s and Parnell himself being the focus of intense controversy. Covering the period from the 1830s to the turn of the century, this exhibition moves from art through politics to literature and drama, while establishing cross-connections between these various worlds. The Irish were prominent in other spheres, notably medicine and the law, but the worlds of the visual arts, politics, literature and the stage retain the most vivid impression of Irish influence in Queen Victoria's reign. These areas of artistic activity also reflect the development of the Irish image from the Romantic era in the work of the poet Thomas Moore through to the conscious modernity of Shaw and Yeats. By the end of the period, with the Celtic craze and events such as the new Abbey Theatre's visits to London, Ireland had become truly 'fashionable'. This coincided with the return of the cultural focus to Dublin, to an Ireland undergoing political radicalization and cultural renaissance.

In exploring the presence of the Irish in London, the exhibition is in no way limited to artists of Irish origin. Some came to London from Ireland, such as Maclise and John Henry Foley, as well as Shaw, John Lavery, George Moore and John Butler Yeats. Others, like Ford Madox Brown, Sydney Prior Hall, Anthony Trollope, Julia Margaret Cameron and Aubrey Beardsley, were English, yet were interested in representing Irish people and events at the heart of empire. And others were neither Irish nor English: Whistler was American, while David d'Angers was French.

The exhibition will also indicate the variety, and impact, of Irish artists, politicians and writers in Victorian London and show that the high-profile achievement of Irish cultural entrepreneurs at the very end of the nineteenth century built upon many decades of influential activity by a creative element at once part of the imperial consciousness, and at odds with it.

The exhibition is curated by Fintan Cullen who teaches Art History at the University of Nottingham and is the author of The Irish Face: Redefining the Irish Portrait, and R.F. Foster, Carroll Professor of Irish History at the University of Oxford and author of the acclaimed recent biography of W.B.Yeats.










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