“Irish Art as Political Propaganda in the Early Years of the Irish Free State” Talk

“Irish Art as Political Propaganda in the Early Years of the Irish Free State” Talk

“Irish Art as Political Propaganda in the Early Years of the Irish Free State”

A talk entitled “Irish Art as Political Propaganda in the Early Years of the Irish Free State” by William Shortall, will take place in the Abbeyleix House on Thursday 22 February at 8pm. Admission is free to members of the Heritage Society and €3 for non-members. It is hosted by the Laois Heritage Society in association with the Laois Arts Office. It promises to be a fascinating insight into the exhibition of Irish art which took place in Paris in 1922.

The lecture will be given by Billy Shortall. Originally from near Abbeyleix and after a career in Information Technology, Billy is now an art historian. He won the Liam Swords bursary which enabled him to spend last summer in  Paris researching a major Irish art exhibition, held there in 1922. He stayed as guest of the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris while completing his research.

Paul Henry (1849-1958), A West of Ireland Village (Un village de l’ouest de l’Irlande), 1921, Oil on Canvas, 65 x 81 cm. Collection: Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

The first engagement the nascent State had with visual art, was a major exhibition of Irish art held in Paris just before the Civil War. In January 1922, as the Irish State was transitioning to independence, its government, as part of a programme to have the State’s sovereignty recognised internationally, participated in a World Congress for the Irish Race in Paris. The Congress was a political gathering attended by an Irish delegation that included three future Irish Presidents (spot them in the photograph below) and diaspora organisations from thirty countries. It was occasioned by a major, month long, Irish art exhibition of three hundred art works. This was the first time the emerging new State used art to position itself internationally. Both Eamon De Valera and Arthur Griffith approved of this display – recognising its value as political propaganda. In conjunction with political independence, the exhibition, an endeavour of cultural diplomacy, was to showcase Irish artistic and cultural uniqueness and independence. George Plunkett, Minister for Fine Art in the revolutionary Dáil during the War of Independence, when the exhibition was being planned, also sought a propaganda value from the show. This was achieved by presenting works that displayed Ireland as a functioning entity, with political leaders and highlighting British atrocities in Ireland. Among the ninety-four artists and groups represented were, Jack Yeats, John Lavery, Harry Clarke, Albert Power, Sean Keating, Cuala Press and An Tur Gloine. Many of the exhibits are now in Irish national collections. The French government purchased a Paul Henry landscape from the exhibition in Galeries Barbazanges for its collection and it is now in the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. A number of French archives hold material on the event and these have enabled the recovery of the narrative of this art exhibition, a bold and confident statement by the new state that took place in the art capital of the world. The Liam Swords memorial lectures will present this recent research; ‘I know its value for propaganda – a major Irish art exhibition in Paris, 1922′ was held in the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris in November and in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin in February, 2018. Further details on the Liam Swords bursary and lectures is available here. 

Further details on the lecture from Muireann Ní Chonaill, Arts Officer, Laois County Council. telphone: 057-8664109. and