Visualising the Revival

Page with 'Some Opinions Respecting the First Number' of the <em>Irish Review</em>

Advertsing page with opinions on the first number of the Review taken from various periodicals 

Frontispiece of the first issue of the<em> Irish Review</em> March 1911

Frontispiece of the first issue of the Irish Review with plate by William Orpen 

In addition to publishing influential Irish writers of the day, the magazine featured plates by painters such as Jack Yeats, William Orpen, Dermot O’Brien, Gerald Festus Kelly, Nathaniel Hone, Norman and Jack Morrow as well as artists affiliated with the Arts and Crafts Movement such as Harry Clarke, Sarah Purser, Wilhelmina Geddes, Beatrice Elvery, Grace Gifford, and others. Among the reviews which appeared after the first number, several columnists commented on the artwork in the Review. For instance, the nationalist Freeman’s Journal appreciated the aesthetics of the magazine: ‘The first number makes a most attractive appearance; it is handsomely printed on a stately page, and the seemingly grey-blue cover is distinctive and distinguished… A feature that should be very interesting is the monthly plate by an Irish artist’. On the other hand, the Dublin Daily Express attacked the partisan nature of the Review and was vehement, in particular, about the artwork by William Orpen: ‘The first number of this new periodical is disappointing… the cloven hoof of the Nationalist shows through the mask of the reviewer. The art frontispiece is grotesque and ugly. It repels the eye, and tells no story’ (IR Apr. 1911). Grotesqueness seems to be the mood also for Jack B. Yeats’s watercolour ‘The Tinker’s Curse’ (IR Oct. 1911) depicting a traveler imprecating with a stick in his hand. Jack B. Yeats also contributed ‘A Night in Ballycastle’ (IR Apr. 1911) representing two dark figures illuminated by an oil lamp and playing cards. The original painting, dated around 1909 and alternatively known as ‘A Summer Evening (in Ballycastle)’, also appeared in Padraic Colum’s 1912 book My Irish Year

Other artists whose plates appeared in the Review included Gerald Festus Kelly’s Burmese portraits ‘The Golden Parasol, Ma-Thein-Kin’ (IR Aug. 1911) and ‘A Burmese Girl’ (IR Apr. 1912), inspired by his sojourn in Burma between 1908 and 1909. Kelly was born in London from a family of Irish descent and worked primarily in England. He spent some time in Paris at the turn of the twentieth century and interacted with the major impressionist and post-impressionist painters such as Monet, Degas, and Cézanne. Hugh Lane became his patron in 1908 (ODNB). Kelly’s paintings of orientalist outlook, appearing alongside essays by literary critics such as John Eglinton (‘Thomas Moore as a Theologian’, IR Jul. 1911) and Standish O’Grady (‘Paganism—Greek and Irish’, IR Aug. 1912) project an image of the Irish Review as also partaking in the exoticism and primitivism typical of certain strands of Modernism. 

<p>Frontispiece of the <em>Irish Review</em> with plate by Nathaniel Hone (January 1912)</p>

Frontispiece of the Irish Review with plate by Nathaniel Hone 

The Review also published Irish-themed paintings of rural and bucolic scenes like the ones by Dermot O’Brien and the Irish coastal landscapes of Nathaniel Hone and Jack Morrow. The Review’s continuous and consistent investment in the visual arts―notwithstanding financial difficulties, editorial changes, artistic divergences and a more politicised focus in the final year―testifies to the magazine’s commitment to a view that Revivalism in Ireland entailed a concerted effort to engage audiences across multiple disciplines, from literature to the visual arts, from political propaganda to the social sciences. As such, during the Revival, artists and activists were equally involved in literary, political, and social enterprises and did not see each of these aspects as mutually exclusive.