Bloomsday

Line drawing of James Joyce
Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), James Joyce (1882-1941) (detail), 1921. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland.Credit

To celebrate Bloomsday, we’re looking at a few Joycean highlights from our collection!

What is Bloomsday?

For anyone unfamiliar with Bloomsday, it celebrates Thursday 16 June 1904, the day depicted in James Joyce’s Ulysses, and is named after the novel’s central character Leopold Bloom. The day itself had a special significance for Joyce, as it was the day that he first went out walking together with his future wife, Nora Barnacle! The Gallery's Millennium Wing entrance is located just opposite the site of their initial fateful encounter opposite, outside what was then Finn’s Hotel, where Nora was working as a chamber maid – look up, and you’ll still see the ghost sign for the hotel on gable end of the wall!

Detail of an oil portrait of James Joyce sitting in an armchair
Jacques-Emile Blanche (1861-1942), Portrait of James Joyce (1882-1941), Author (detail), 1934. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland.
Line drawing of James Joyce
Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), James Joyce (1882-1941) (detail), 1921. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland.

Portraits of Joyce in our collection

Joyce himself professed to know little of painting – in a 1906 letter to his brother Stanislaus he writes: “On all subjects – except socialism (for which you care nothing) and painting (of which I know nothing) – we have the same like or opinion”.

Despite this apparent lack of knowledge on painting, he was the subject of quite a number of portraits! The portraits above are just two from the collection here at the National Gallery of Ireland.

Portrait by Wyndham Lewis

On the right is a 1921 portrait by Wyndham Lewis (1882–1957). A modernist contemporary of Joyce's, Lewis was a writer, painter, and critic, and co-founded the Vorticist movement in art. The year after this portrait was painted, in February 1922, Ulysses was published in Paris by Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company. The portrait was donated to the Gallery in 1951 by Joyce's friend and patron Harriet Shaw Weaver

Portrait by Jacques-Emile Blanche

On the left is a portrait of Joyce by Jacques-Emile Blanche (1861-1942) dating from more than a decade later,  in 1934, the year of the US publication of Ulysses. Blanche moved in literary circles, and among his other portrait subjects were Marcel Proust (Musée d'Orsay), and Henry James (National Portrait Gallery). 

View of bottles and objects behind a bar with customers reflected in a mirror and a shop sign reading David Byrne visible through the window
Harry Aaron Kernoff (1900-1974), Davy Byrne's Pub, Dublin, from the Bailey, 1941. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland.
Pencil sketch of bottles and objects behind a bar
Harry Aaron Kernoff (1900-1974), Davy Byrne's Pub, from the Bailey, Duke Street (detail), 1941. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland.

Ulysses landmarks in our collection

Davy Byrne's Pub (above)

It’s in this pub, still located on Duke Street in Dublin, that Leopold Bloom has his lunch of a glass of Burgundy and a gorgonzola sandwich. You can see this landmark very clearly in these two works by Harry Kernoff – the first is a preliminary sketch which shows Kernoff’s detailed annotations about colours. The second is the completed oil painting. Kernoff painted several images of Dublin's so-called 'literary pubs'.

“He entered Davy Byrne's. Moral pub. He doesn't chat. Stands a drink now and then. But in leapyear once in four. Cashed a cheque for me once […] Mr Bloom ate his strips of sandwich, fresh clean bread, with relish of disgust, pungent mustard, the feety savour of green cheese. Sips of his wine soothed his palate. Not logwood that. Tastes fuller this weather with the chill off.

Nice quiet bar. Nice piece of wood in that counter. Nicely planed. Like the way it curves there."

Pencil drawing of a row of Georgian houses
Flora H. Mitchell (1890-1973), No. 7, Eccles Street, Bloom's House in Joyce's 'Ulysses' (detail). Photo © National Gallery of Ireland.
Flora Mitchell's inscription on her drawing which reads 7 Eccles St, James Joyce [indecipherable] of "Bloomsday"
Inscription from Flora Mitchell's drawing of Eccles Street

7 Eccles Street (above)

This work on paper (above left, with detail of the artist's annotation on the right) by Flora Mitchell shows the location of Leopold and Molly Bloom’s house on Eccles Street, where Leopold sets out from on the morning of June 16, and where Molly’s famous closing lines “and yes I said yes I will Yes” were spoken. Interestingly, although 7 Eccles Street was demolished to make way for an extension to the nearby Mater Hospital, the original front door was saved, and you can see it at the James Joyce Centre on North Great George's Street. 

Another work by Flora Mitchell with a Joycean link is the depiction of the house on Usher's Island (below) which features in Joyce's short story The Dead.

Happy Bloomsday!

Watercolour of a woman and children on the street outside a Georgian house with signs for Dardis Seeds in the lower two windows
Flora H. Mitchell (1890-1973), No. 15 Usher's Island (detail), c.1950s. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland.Credit

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