9 Famous Irish Artists You Should Know
From Neolithic-age stone carvings to Bronze Age metalwork, to Celtic art traded with Britain and Northern Europe starting in 300 BC, Irish artwork encompasses a rich, fascinating history.
Uninfluenced by Renaissance art, the country saw several famous Irish artists emerge across Irish fine art. Specialized in landscapes and portraiture, their emergence corresponded with the establishment of the Royal Dublin Society in 1731, and later the Royal Irish Academy in 1785.
With new opportunities to be found abroad during the Victorian era, Irish portraitists moved to London, while their landscape artist counterparts moved to Paris, to further their work and study. But by the early 20th century, the situation at home improved for Irish artists.
The Celtic Revival sparked a newfound interest in Celtic culture, and the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art was founded – the first public gallery of its kind in the world. But as Ireland became an independent state in the early 1920s, Irish artists continued to follow traditional styles and techniques seen in European contemporary art.
Irish Artwork: Common Designs and Styles
Some of the most common designs and motifs found across traditional Irish artwork include Celtic crosses and knotwork, as well as spiral designs (examples below).
In the early Middle Ages, when Christianity spread to the Celtic-speaking world, the Insular art style flourished in Ireland. It was characterized by stonework (such as High crosses), metalwork, and illuminated manuscripts, and was known for its intricacy and imagination.
9 Famous Irish Artists to Know
While impossible to cover the entire history of traditional Irish artwork and Irish fine art, we’ve honed in on some of the most famous Irish artists whose works continue to be widely admired at auction, across museums, and among fans of Irish graffiti artists. Here are just a few names to know.
Born in Glasgow in 1930, William Crozier was an Irish-Scots landscape and still-life artist. He lived and worked in West Cork, Ireland, and Hampshire, England. Crozier, who attended the Glasgow School of Art, spent time in Paris, Dublin, and London before gaining popularity. His work could be considered in line with contemporary European art styles in the 1950s and ‘60s.
However, after spending time in southern Spain with Anthony Cronin, an Irish poet, Crozier returned to the UK to create a series of skeletal paintings. These paved the way for German New Expressionist painters in the ‘80s, who were influenced by several of Crozier’s visits to their country.
After spending time teaching at various art schools, Crozier dabbled in abstract landscape and still life painting. Before his death in 2011, he was dedicated to figurative painting.
Louis le Brocquy
Irish painter Louis le Brocquy was born in 1916 in Dublin. He was a widely acclaimed artist throughout his career, spanning about 70 years.
Some of his most renowned works include A Family (pictured below), which was displayed in the famed Fifty Years of Modern Art exhibition at the Brussels World Fair in 1958. He was also famous for his so-called “portrait heads” of artists and literary figures, including those of Francis Bacon and James Joyce.
After marrying Irish painter Anne Madden, le Brocquy left London, his place of work, to work in the French Midi. Today, his work can be seen in the Guggenheim in New York, the Tate Modern in London, and the National Gallery of Ireland.
Le Brocquoy is among a small group of British and Irish artists whose works have sold for over £1 million.
Paul Henry was a famous Irish artist most known for his landscape paintings of the West of Ireland. Born in 1876 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he came to create paintings in a Post-Impressionist style. His love of art started at the early age of 15 when he started to draw frequently. He later studied art at the Belfast School of Art and the Academie Julian in Paris.
Henry moved to Dublin in 1920 and became one of the founders of the Society of Dublin Painters, originally consisting of 10 artists. He also designed railway posters, which have gone on to sell for high prices at auction. Henry’s A Sunny Day, Connemara, of 1940, for example, sold at a Whyte’s 2020 auction for €420,000.
Henry was Ireland’s most well-known artist during the 1920s-30s, and he greatly influenced western Ireland’s image. His work continues to be exhibited in museums including the National Gallery of Ireland and continues to be popular across Irish and British art sales at well-known auction houses including James Adams, Whyte’s, and Bonhams.
Contemporary Irish artist Gail Kelly’s artworks are inspired by Britain and Ireland’s ancient folklore and rural traditions. Kelly uses printmaking techniques like lithography, linocut, and woodcut, and has designed and published greeting cards for Algan Arts. Her works can be found in galleries across England, Scotland, and Ireland, and have been exhibited in Belfast, London, Wales, Shetland, and in the US at Arizona State University and the University of Nebraska.
British Craft Trade Fair is online Sun 20th – Tue 22nd Sept.
Algan Arts ~ greetings cards & linen prints
[email protected] for my 2020 trade price list. @BCTF_Harrogate #bctfonline pic.twitter.com/0xNKk2yddh
— Gail Kelly (@Gail_AlganArts) September 18, 2020
Howard Knee, an Irish artist who also goes by Frederick Howard Knee, was born in 1889 in London, England. He is most known for his watercolor landscapes and coastal view paintings. Knee arrived in Dublin in 1912, where he stayed to live and work for the rest of his life. Though he attended a few classes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, he was largely a self-taught artist. While regarded as a landscape artist dabbling in both oil painting and watercolors, Knee was also a talented sketch artist and known member of the Dublin Sketching Club.
Knee began exhibiting his work at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1916 through 1967. His exhibitions at Victor Waddington Galleries in Dublin were particularly popular. Today, Knee’s works are often auctioned at notable Irish and British auction houses including Whyte’s.
Collectors may be able to snag one of Knee’s pieces for an affordable price, as his paintings can sell from anywhere between $31-838, depending on the size and medium of the work.
Sir John Lavery
Sir John Lavery was an Irish painter born in 1856 in North Belfast. He became popular for his portraits and wartime pieces. After moving to Scotland as a child, Lavery attended the Haldane Academy in Glasgow before moving on to the Académie Julian in Paris in the early 1880s. After returning to Glasgow, he became associated with the Glasgow School.
In 1888, Lavery was commissioned to paint Queen Victoria during her visit to the Glasgow International Exhibition. This opportunity sparked his career as a society painter, and Lavery soon moved to London where he painted figures like Mary Burrell, sister of Scottish shipping merchant and art enthusiast, William Burrell. This portrait (shown below) of Mary became one of Lavery’s best-known.
Lavery went on to become appointed as an official artist of the First World War, though his poor health and a series of war-related events prevented him from fulfilling this role. However, he stayed in Britain during this time to paint boats, airships, and airplanes. Following the war, Lavery was knighted and was elected to the Royal Academy.
Sir William Orpen
Born in 1878, Sir William Orpen has become one of the most famous Irish artists known today, though he mainly worked in London. He painted portraits of notable figures in Edwardian society, but some of his most important works were his self-portraits.
Orpen was a war artist during World War I, sent to the Western Front to draw and paint soldiers alive and dead, generals, politicians, and German prisoners of war. He donated most of these works to the British government, and they are now visible to the public in the Imperial War Museum.
The artist was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1918 and elected a member of the Royal Academy of Arts. While for many years, his paintings remained unexhibited due to critics’ dismissal of his work, Lavery’s paintings started to be shown and celebrated in the 1980s.
Jack Butler Yeats
Jack Butler Yeats, born in 1871 in London, had many talents – he was both an Irish artist and Olympic medalist in swimming. In his early years as an artist, he was more of an illustrator. He started to experiment with oil painting in 1906, focusing on landscapes and figures in the west of Ireland.
Yeats’ early paintings show elements of Romanticism, but he later became an Expressionist – particularly a Symbolist. He enjoyed painting Irish landscapes, horses, traveling players, and circus folks.
One of his notable works, A Horseman Enters a Town at Night (1948), was sold at a Christie’s auction in 2010 for about £350,000. At the same auction, his smaller painting, Man in a Room Thinking (1947), sold for £66,000. More recently, his paintings Reverie (1945) and Evening in Spring (1937) sold for €1.4 million and €1.3 million, respectively, at a Whyte’s auction in 2019.
One of today’s most popular Irish graffiti artists, Maser “embodies the centric spirit of contemporary visual art in Ireland today,” according to the artist’s website. He began creating in 1995 and has since earned respect and gained a large following thanks to his unique graphic style (influenced by both optical and mid-century works).
Maser’s street art and paintings are characterized by bold colors, patterns, and text, and according to his website, he “offers the viewer an opportunity to become fully immersed in an almost hypnotic state.”
In 2018, Maser established the Atelier Maser, a creative studio and gallery space in Dublin. More recently, the artist was invited to create a large-scale 3D installation for the Art on Paper fair in New York in 2020.
My most recent piece for @BallinaFringe Thank you to the local community for being so welcoming and accommodating ?? pic.twitter.com/Z9LBTpT0jo
— Maser (@MaserArt) October 9, 2020
Important Irish Artwork at Auction
Irish fine art paintings by the above artists, as well as those of many others from the Emerald Isle, remain in-demand at auction and in galleries today. Explore more Irish art and artists, listing and record selling prices, and current works for sale at auction on Invaluable.