Louis le Brocquy (1916-2012) – a tribute
Louis le Brocquy was a towering figure in Irish art, whose work is a testament to his openness to international modernism and Irish influence, but is also a record of a singular vision. He is perhaps best known for his unique series of compositions featuring celebrated literary figures and fellow artists.
In November 2006, to celebrate the artist’s 90th birthday, the National Gallery of Ireland held an exhibition of his ‘Portrait Heads’, which featured images of William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Francis Bacon, Frederico Garcia Lorca and Picasso. In the accompanying exhibition catalogue, Colm Tóibín, said: “Le Brocquy paints images of the head in the time when the face, in all its uneasy beauty and energy and singularity, outstares the skull and seems to contain within itself what le Brocquy calls ‘the everlasting night of the stars’ and what Yeats, in turn, called: ‘All that man is, All mere complexities, The fury and the mire of human veins’.” Of his numerous studies of Yeats and Joyce, Louis said: “I have sought to bring their spirits back from the place into which they have faded not exactly as an archaeologist searching for traces of them but more as an alchemist rebuilding ‘those ancient glittering eyes.”
On 20 October 2003, the Gallery unveiled Louis le Brocquy’s portrait of Bono which was specially commissioned for the National Portrait Collection. In his reference to the work, le Brocquy said: “In the past I have painted an extensive series of interiorised head images of artists such as Frances Bacon and Seamus Heaney whom I see as extraordinary instances of human consciousness. In more recent years, I have made a number of similar studies of Bono, whose spirit and whose radiant energy I admire so much. But a painting destined for the National Portrait Collection presents a different challenge; to make a recognisable image of Bono’s outward appearance, while attempting to portray what I conceive to be the wavelengths of his inner dynamism.”
Among le Brocquy's works in the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland are; A Family (1951), presented by Lochlann and Brenda Quinn (Heritage Gift, 2002); Image of Bono (2003), commissioned for the National Portrait Collection, and the large Aubusson Tapestry Triumph of Cúchulainn (2001), which was specially commissioned and presented in 2002 by Carmel Naughton. A gentleman and influential artist of the 20th century, le Brocquy will be greatly missed by all those who had the pleasure to know him and work alongside him. The Gallery is deeply indebted to his support and generosity through the years.
Le Brocquy’s Image of Bono and A Family are on view in the Millennium Wing.