Sean Keating (1889-1977), 'Homage to Jimmy and Frans (Portrait of Jimmy O'Dea)', 1963


Sean Keating (1889-1977)

Homage to Jimmy and Frans (Portrait of Jimmy O'Dea), 1963

Oil on canvas, 76.7 x 66.2 cm
Signed, lower right: KEATING
Inscribed on canvas overlap: JIMMY O'DEA
Purchased, 2012.
NGI.2012.16

Though Keating is identified most closely with politically charged images of the emergent Irish state, austere formal portraiture, and images of the western seaboard, he was also associated with the Irish theatre. He exhibited a large number of theatrical subjects, executed illustrations for specific works (Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World prominent among them) and could count many figures from the theatre among his friends.

This portrait, Homage to Jimmy and Frans , was exhibited at the RHA in 1963. The title refers simultaneously to Jimmy O’Dea, the much loved actor and comedian, and the seventeenth-century painter, Frans Hals, who Keating is known to have admired. Over twenty years earlier, Keating had contributed a painting entitled Homage to Frans Hals to the RHA exhibition in 1944.

In this rather whimsical pastiche of Dutch seventeenth-century portraiture, Keating presents O’Dea in the approximated costume of a burgher or cavalier. Like his former master William Orpen, Keating demonstrated regularly in his art a penchant for costume, casting himself in various guises and settings. In this portrait, O’Dea sits directly in front of a heavy drape, which at once suggests an artist’s studio and a theatrical curtain.

O’Dea enjoyed a very successful career both on stage and screen. His most famous character was the Dublin street-seller, Mrs Biddy Mulligan, created by O’Dea and his long-term collaborator Harry O’Donovan. He also partnered Maureen Potter many times on stage, and was a prolific songwriter.