Abstract composition of shapes in a frame shaped like an altarpiece
Mainie Jellett (1897-1944), Decoration, 1923. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland.

Decoration by Mainie Jellett (1897-1944)

89 x 53 cm
Tempera on wood panel
Bequeathed, Evie Hone, 1955

Jellett trained in Dublin and London before moving on in 1920 to Paris. There, with Evie Hone, she studied under André Lhote, an advocate of Cézanne’s analytical approach to painting, and Albert Gleizes, an established Cubist artist. Inspired by their work, Jellett began to analyse rhythm, colour and form in her own work, while also drawing on long-standing pictorial traditions.

Though essentially abstract, the format, colour range and media of this work strongly recall religious icons depicting the Madonna and Child. When shown with a similarly abstract painting at the Society of Dublin Painters group show in 1923, Decoration caused a furore. The reviewer from The Irish Times wrote of Jellett’s work in the exhibition:‘they are all squares, cubes, odd shapes and clashing colours. They may, to the man who understands the most up-to-date modern art, mean something; but to me they presented an insoluble puzzle.’ A more strident journalist referred to the ‘sub-human art of Miss Jellett’.

The artist drew similar criticism from Irish painters suspicious of modernism. Through perseverance and a return to more figurative motifs, however, she changed the view of many of her critics.

Explore digitised archival material relating to Mainie Jellett on Source: Irish Art Digital Archive & Library.