Saturday, January 12, 2013

Public Service and Paintbrushes

Sarah Cecilia Harrison "Self-Portrait" 1889  Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane

Sarah Cecilia Harrison (1863–1941) was an Irish artist who studied at the Slade School of Art under Alphonse LeGros. Upon graduating from that institution she traveled for some time on the European continent to further her art education, as was common in those days. In 1889 she returned to Ireland and very soon established herself as one of that country's foremost portrait painters. She was an honorary member of the Royal Ulster Academy of Fine Arts, which at first seems a little mysterious as she lived in Dublin, the seat of the Royal Hibernian Academy. However, the RUAFA was founded by both male and female artists, whereas the RHA was less welcoming of women artists as members during Harrison's lifetime. She did however submit work to the annual exhibitions at the RHA as well as to the Royal Academy in London. Although she used her full name professionally, she was known to her friends and family as Cecilia.

An interesting side to the artist was her work in politics and social reform. She was the first woman to be elected to the Dublin City Council, in 1912. She was well-known for her efforts in the fields of Poor Relief and Women's Rights. She was also involved with Hugh Lane's project to establish a museum of modern art in Dublin, which did in fact come to fruition. The Dublin Municipal Gallery was founded in 1908, and is now known as Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane or just, affectionately, as "The Hugh Lane."

"...Sarah Celia Harrison, a pupil of Alphonse Legros and a disciple of John Butler Yeats, produced portraits that, at their best, have the quality of statements in distinguished prose about her subjects. Sometimes, where the subject did not interest her, even her meticulously painstaking methods fail to satisfy, but for the most part her work has one of the essential qualities of true portraiture, it is scrupulously, fastidiously, honest, which means that it has lasting value as human documentation."
~Thomas McGreevy, Fifty Years of Irish Painting: 1900-1950

Sarah Cecilia Harrison "Self-Portrait" 1900 Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane
It is interesting to note the similarities between these two self-portraits. Although the date of this second one would have the paintings span eleven years, the artist looks remarkably similar in both pieces, even wearing the same shirt, hairstyle and slightly opened mouth expression.


Marianne said...

Wow - what an amazing set of portraits. I can almost hear her voice, husky and soft. Also, they are painted a year apart but she is wearing the same blouse. Her favorite maybe?

Kate Stone said...

Your bio doesn't say much about her personal life. Did she make a living off of her art?

Emilie said...

11 years apart. They are both amazing, but the second self-portrait is riveting. Such a direct look. I almost have the feeling I'm seeing her in person.

Nancy Bea Miller said...

I believe her family was from the upper-middle-class (to lower-upper-class?) although there are no details of her finances, so I am not sure how much she needed to make her art "pay." However, I get the impression she did indeed make money from her portraiture. She was very highly regarded, she is mentioned frequently in Irish art history and etc.

Sheryl Humphrey said...

Striking, confident, intelligent self-portraits. It has been such a pleasure to be introduced to so many interesting artists and works that were previously unknown to me, thanks to this important "Women in the Act of Painting" project. I would love to see this in book form!