Description: Seán Keating PRHA (1889-1977)Burning the KelpOil on board, 57 x 76cm (22½ x 30)Signed, also signed and dated (19)'74Provenance: Purchased from the artist by Mrs Noreen Barrett and thence by descent to the present owner.From the moment Seán Keating first stepped onto the Aran Islands with his friend, Harry Clarke, sometime before World War One, it became a place of personal and political artistic identity for the artist. His habit was to visit Aran in the late summer or early autumn, before his teaching year began at the school of art in Dublin (later the NCA, 1937), where hed spend two weeks or so sketching and painting. Keating also took photographs, and from the early 1930s onwards, cine footage of the islands, which he used to aid the completion of compositions throughout the rest of the year. Always interested in the atmospheric conditions, hed make notes on sketches about the movement of cloud, the colour of the sea, and the effect of the sun on the landscape. Employed on a part time basis at the NCA, and after his retirement, left without a pension, Keatings financial mainstay throughout his career was portraiture, followed closely by paintings of the Aran Island people and their traditional way of life, so his trips to the islands were essential, albeit enjoyable. However, after the death of his wife, May (née Walshe), in 1965, Keating stopped going to the islands. He depended instead on his vast store of successful vignettes from previous paintings, photographs, cine footage, notes on atmospheric conditions, and cut outs from magazines and newspapers to supply the constant demand for paintings of Aran. By the time he came to compose Burning the Kelp in 1973 Keating was eighty four years old and nearing the end of his life. Yet, as encouraged by his mentor, William Orpen so many years before, he worked every day to keep his eyes and hands in practice, and to earn a living. With his idea for the painting in mind, he returned to a successful vignette of an Aran woman burning kelp, first seen in paintings made in the 1940s, and to another of a man of Aran beside his currach, versions of which he had painted in the early 1930s. Although painted so late in his career, it is Keatings attention to the atmospheric conditions, the light, and the calm reflections on the surface of the sea, that draw the eye to the work, and thus, Burning the Kelp represents a lifetime of memories, and of accumulated wisdom about which the artist spoke in 1971:Aran was different. Aran was coherent
There was a natural background of quite a different palette
strong clear colours like the wonderful clear light
The hand is as good as ever
always enjoying a new sensation, like this morning, with all that powerful light, I can see things that I couldnt see before
and all the accumulated wisdom behind it
(Seán Keating - a life, RTE Guide, 10 December, 1971, reproduced in Éimear OConnor, Seán Keating in Context: Responses to Culture and Politics in Post-Civil War Ireland (Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2009), p. 173-4).Dr Éimear OConnor HRHAResearch Associate, TRIARC - Irish Art Research Centre, Trinity College DublinAuthor of Seán Keating: Art, Politics and Building the Irish Nation (Kildare: Irish Academic Press, 2013).
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