Through a Lens tour: Family Favourites

A woman crouched down beside a small child and pointing at a painting on a tour of the National Gallery of Ireland.
James Ardagh. Image © National Gallery of Ireland. Photographer: Jack Caffrey, The Pimlico Project, 2017Credit

Online self-guided tour

As you wander through our galleries, look out for these paintings and discover some of the highlights of our collection in a fun and engaging way! We hope that these artworks will get everyone exploring and talking on your visit to the Gallery. 

We have chosen very different works, from different times, in various styles, so that there is lots to discover. Questions in each entry will encourage everyone to use their imaginations and look more closely at art. 

Want to learn more? Follow the links for more about each artwork and other related projects.

Finding your way around

  • If you are doing this tour onsite at the Gallery, taking in all the works will take approximately 45 minutes.
  • Feel free to skip a few or spend longer at others.
  • When in the Gallery, please be aware that you will be moving across various levels, which may require access to lifts. You can ask any member of staff to direct you to the closest lift. They will also be able to direct you to the changing facilities in various parts of the building.
  • If you need them, we have nappies of various sizes available at the cloakrooms.


Start the tour!

Oil painting of spectators crowding along the quays of the River Liffey watching a swimming race
Jack B. Yeats The Liffey Swim
Oil painting of a group of children pretending to be a marching band parading down a street
Richard Thomas Moynan Military Manoeuvres

Room 14

Jack B. Yeats (18711957), The Liffey Swim, 1923 

What is happening in this painting? 

Yeats has painted Dublin’s annual Liffey Swim, a race that has been running since 1920. Thirty-four swimmers took part in the Liffey Swim in 1923, which started at a Guinness barge at Victoria Quay and finished a mile and a half downriver. Would you swim in the Liffey?

Yeats was awarded a silver medal for his portrayal of this unique sporting event at the 1924 Olympic Arts Competition in Paris, which was part of the Olympic Games. We have the medal in our collection here at the Gallery.

Can you see the character in the brown fedora hat facing slightly towards us? This may be the artist himself, and the woman wearing the elaborate yellow hat could be his wife Cottie.

Yeats used fast brushstrokes and bright colours to express emotions in his work.

  • Where has he put bright colours in this painting?
  • What emotions do you think he is trying to show in this work? 
Explore further:

Room 17

Richard Thomas Moynan (18561906), Military Manoeuvres, 1891

This picture is set on the main street in Leixlip, County Kildare. A soldier and the young lady he is with are being followed by a group of children. What are the children doing? 

The children are pretending to be a military band with real and improvised instruments.

  • What are they using to make music?
  • What do you think it would sound like? 
  • Who is in charge of this band? How can you tell?

On the right hand side of the painting, the would-be drum major, leader of the marching band, is wearing an actual helmet from the regimental band with a black horse-hair plume.

Military Manoeuvres is an excellent example of everyday life painted on a large scale. Pictures like this were popular throughout Europe at the time, especially if there were children in them. Moynan was studying medicine in Trinity College Dublin when he left to become a full-time artist.

  • Can you tell what the red-roofed building in the background is?
  • What can you see in the window?

It was a blacksmith’s. The glow in the window is coming from the blacksmith’s forge where the metal is heated to melt it down and reshape it. Do you know what a blacksmith did? A blacksmith made and fixed objects from metal. Their work was very important at the time, and there would have been a blacksmith in every town and village.

Explore further:
Francis Danby (1793-1861), 'The Opening of the Sixth Seal', 1828. © National Gallery of Ireland.
Francis Danby The Opening of the Sixth Seal
Dramatic oil painting crowded with people, with a man in armour and a woman at centre being married by a priest.
Daniel Maclise The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife

Room 21

Francis Danby (17931861), The Opening of the Sixth Seal, 1828

This is a very dramatic painting! What’s happening here?

This illustrates one of the stages of the end of the world as described in the Book of Revelations (6:1217). In this Bible story, God opens the sixth seal on a scroll and the earth is torn apart. 

Can you see each of these stages from the Bible?

  • The sun becomes black 
  • A king slumps with the now worthless symbols of his royalty (crown and sceptre)
  • People cower in fear
  • A city falls to rubble

Can you see one of the few standing figures in the painting? The man standing with his back to us in the centre of the painting is an enslaved person set free at the end of the world. 

Millions of people from Africa were forcibly removed from their homes, and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean in conditions of great cruelty between 1500 and 1900. They were forced to work but received no pay and had no freedom. European countries, including Britain, exploited enslaved people and profited from their labour.

Danby opposed slavery and used this main figure to highlight the inequality of the slave trade. This caused quite a scandal. Someone even tried to cut the enslaved person out! The canvas was repaired but you can still see the knife marks if you look closely. It is not possible to fix the knife marks entirely. Do you think the knife marks remind us of the brutality of slavery?

The slave trade stopped in 1807 in Britain but the bill for the abolition of slavery itself was not passed until 1833. Illegal slave trading continued for decades, and slavery in America didn’t end until 1865. The consequences of the slave trade are still felt today, with most Black Americans experiencing social and economic discrimination and disadvantage. What does it mean to be free? How does this painting make you feel?

Explore further:


Shaw Room

Daniel Maclise (18061870), The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife, c.1854

This is the biggest painting in the Gallery.

  • What is happening here?
  • Who is at the centre?
  • What are they doing?
  • How do you think they feel?

This painting shows the wedding at Waterford in 1170 of the Norman military adventurer Richard de Clare, known as Strongbow, and Aoife, the daughter of Dermot McMurrough, King of Leinster. It was an important historical event. It is seen as the moment when the Normans’ invasion of Ireland began. The Normans were Vikings or Norsemen, and their descendants, who settled in Northern France and (in this case) in England. Having lost his lands to rival lords, McMurrough asked Strongbow to help him to get his land back in return for his title and lands after his death, and the hand of his daughter once the battle in Waterford was over. 

  • Can you tell who the Normans are and who the Irish are? What is the difference between them?
  • Do you think this painting supports the Irish or the Norman side?
  • How do you think Aoife felt having to marry someone she didn’t know?

This was painted for the Palace of Westminster in London, where the Houses of Parliament are. Maclise was asked to paint how Ireland was conquered by the Anglo-Normans. He painted the victorious Normans and the defeated Irish but also included elements that seem to support the Irish side: Strongbow puts his foot on a fallen Celtic cross; King Dermot looks on slightly shocked at what he has done, a frail harpist slumps on his instrument (the strings are broken); the defeated Irish lie dead in the foreground.

Explore further:
Oil painting of Dutch school room in seventeenth century with teacher hitting crying child's hand with wooden spoon as other children watch
Jan Steen (1626-1679), The Village School, c.1665. Photo © National Gallery of IrelandCredit

Room 38

Jan Steen (16261679), The Village Schoolc.1665

This painting by Dutch painter Jan Steen is of a classroom in Holland in the 1600s.

  • What is the teacher doing?
  • Can you tell what the boy did wrong to make the teacher punish him?
  • Does it have anything to do with the piece of paper on the floor at the front of the painting?
  • What age do you think the other students are?

Teachers often had to teach lots of different age groups at once as there may have only been one school per village and only a few teachers in each school. 

  • How do you think the girl in the middle of the painting feels?

The artist painted his own three children into this painting. His daughter, Catherina, is the girl in front of the teacher.

  • Do you think she was happy with this portrait?

The other two are the boys on the right. The boy being punished is his son Cornelius and the tall boy holding the paper is Johannes. 

  • What is the teacher wearing?
  • Do you think he looks silly?

In this painting the teacher’s clothes are meant to be old-fashioned and are painted that way to make him look foolish. Teaching was not a good job to have in Jan Steen’s time. 

  • Is your school like this?
  • What’s different about it?
  • What would your ideal school look like?
Explore further:
Gilded altarpiece showing Angel Gabriel telling Mary she will have a son.
Jacques Yverni The Annunciation
Three-quarter length portrait in oil of a young man wearing an elaborate embroidered cape, ruff and cap, and holding a sword.
Sofonisba Anguissola Portrait of Prince Alessandro Farnese

Room 32

Jacques Yverni (fl.14101438), The Annunciation, c.1435

When artists paint religious figures they often use certain symbols to make each person recognisable to the viewer.

  • For example, can you tell who the figure in the centre of this altarpiece is? Do the wings give it away?

It is the Angel Gabriel, who is kneeling in front of a woman in dark blue.

  • Do you know who she might be?

Her gold halo, the colour of her robes and the lilies in the centre of the painting are symbols that the artist is using to tell us that this is the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. The Angel Gabriel is telling her that she will have the baby Jesus soon. 

The two smaller figures on the left are the people who paid for the painting. They are smaller because they are not as important as the religious figures. The man behind them is Saint Stephen. We know it is him by his robes, the book in his hand, the palm leaf in his other hand (which shows he was a martyr, that he died for his belief in God) and the stone on top of his head.

  • What do you think the stone looks like?
  • Why do you think that is there?

This represents how he died. He was stoned to death. 

  • What can you see in the sky above the Angel Gabriel’s head?

It's God in the clouds. He is sending down two gifts to the Virgin Mary.

  • Can you tell what those gifts are?

The first is a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit. The second is a tiny baby Jesus kneeling on a cloud being sent by God. 

  • Do you like this style of painting?
  • Do you like the symbols for each figure?
  • If you were painted with symbols representing you, what would they be? A football? A book?
Explore further:



Sofonisba Anguissola (c.15321625), Portrait of Prince Alessandro Farnese (15451592), later Duke of Parma and Piacenza, c.1560

Sofonisba Anguissola came from a very artistic family. She and all five of her sisters became painters. She was the most successful. In 1559 she was invited to become a lady-in-waiting, a female personal assistant, to Queen Elizabeth of Valois in Madrid, as well as the official court painter. This was a great honour. 

She was a very skilled portrait painter. Can you tell that from this portrait? She was great at capturing exactly what the person looked like and the delicate detail in their clothing.

  • Can you tell that this fifteen-year-old boy was royalty?
  • What makes you think that?

This portrait was the first work by a female artist in the Gallery’s collection, but this happened accidentally. Art historians thought it was by a male artist known as Alonso Sánchez Coello. They later discovered it was by Anguissola. Have you seen work by any other female artists on display in the Gallery? Look out for them as you go through the rooms.

Explore further:
Impressionistic landscape painting of a  river, trees on the riverbank, buildings on the horizon and a white sailboat.
Claude Monet Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sailboat
George Bernard Shaw statue in the Millennium Wing. © National Gallery of Ireland.
Prince Paul Troubetzkoy George Bernard Shaw

Room 3

Claude Monet (18401926), Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sailboat, 1874

Claude Monet was part of a group of painters called the Impressionists. They wanted to paint quickly to capture the atmosphere in nature. To do this they painted outdoors, or ‘en plein air’. What do you think are the good and bad parts of painting outside? Monet painted this scene from his boat on the River Seine, just outside Paris, that he had turned into a floating artist’s studio. 

  • What time of day do you think it is?
  • What season could it be? What makes you think that?
  • What is the weather like?

Monet used two layers of paint to capture the water at the bottom of the painting. Look closely and you will see that he painted the reflection first. He uses fast white and blue brushstrokes to make it look like the waves are skipping across the surface of the water.

  • Do you like how it looks?
  • Can you tell it's a windy day?
Explore further:


Millennium Wing

Prince Paul Troubetzkoy (18661938), George Bernard Shaw (18561950), Author, Playwright and Critic, 1927

Sculpture is a form of art that is three dimensional, meaning it is not flat. Sculpture can be small or large. This statue of George Bernard Shaw, who was a writer and a major supporter of the Gallery, was design to be viewed in the round, which means it can be viewed from all sides. Have a walk around it and check out the detail in Shaw’s suit and how he stands. 

  • Can you copy his pose?
  • What is this sculpture made from?

It's made of bronze, which is a type of metal.

  • Can you guess how a sculpture like this would be made?

The bronze has to be liquid, and has to be poured into a mould. But how is the mould made?  It takes a very long time and has a lot of steps. Here is a breakdown of all 10 steps!

  1. The artist makes the sculpture out of another material, such as clay
  2. A layer of liquid rubber is poured over the clay sculpture to make a mould. Once it has dried and is hard the sculpture is taken out of the rubber mould
  3. The outside of the rubber mould is then covered in a layer of plaster and liquid wax is poured inside of the rubber mould and left to harden
  4. The plaster and rubber are removed from the outside to leave a wax version of the original
  5. Wax sticks are stuck onto the wax sculpture at different points to make small tunnels for later
  6. The wax sculpture and sticks are dipped together in liquid ceramic which makes a hard shell when it dries
  7. The wax inside is melted in a kiln (like a special large, very hot, oven) so just the ceramic is left
  8. Very hot liquid bronze poured into shell  through the tunnels from earlier (it looks like lava being poured into the shell!)
  9. The ceramic shell is broken
  10. The bronze is smoothed, polished and treated to protect the outside and change the colour if needed

As you can see bronze sculpture takes a long time to make. Does that make you look at this sculpture a little differently? What makes you say that?

Explore further:

You might also like: