David Nolan
Contemporary Irish Impressionist Painter, Master Portraitist.

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David Nolan (b.1966)
Irish Portrait Artist

The Irish portraitist David Nolan exemplifies much of the European or 'cosmopolitan' tradition in Irish art, but without for a moment forsaking his native country. His art is inspired as much by the iconic figures of Irish history, as it is shaped by the colours and light of France. Exceptionally gifted in still life and landscape painting, as well as portraiture, many of his works are an object lesson in the use of particular shades of colour in order to capture the mood or moment of the subject. More Manet than Monet in his traditional (one might even say classical) approach to composition, his use of black pigment and his preference for representational and figurative work, his modern touch makes him a true 'contemporary Impressionist.' He was recently awarded the much-coveted Icons of Ireland commission – a collection of portraits of iconic figures who have shaped and defined contemporary Ireland. His latest high-profile project is a specially commissioned portrait of US President Barack Obama. The portrait is due to be presented to Mr Obama later this year. (For other modernists based in Ireland, see: Contemporary Irish Artists. For the world's best, see: Top Contemporary Artists.)

Examples of Paintings

Portrait ofReverend Ian Paisley.
One of two Nolan portraits accepted for
the 127th Royal Ulster Academy of Arts
Annual Exhibition opening
19th September 2008.

Portrait of Samuel Beckett.
Regarded by many art critics as
the finest portrayal of one of
Ireland's greatest literary artists.

Portrait of Van Morrison.

Turquoise Vase. (Are there echoes
of the later interior paintings of the
great Roderic O'Conor in the
beautiful colour scheme?)


Born in Dublin, he studied Visual Arts at the Dublin college of Marketing and Design, before moving to Los Angeles USA where he worked as an artist in Disney's animation studios. Thereafter, in addition to working on private commissions, he established himself as a freelance Background Painter and later as an art director involved in projects in Dublin, London, Copenhagen, Oslo, and Berlin for companies like Warner Bros, Sullivan Bluth and RTE. He was also commissioned by the Irish government to complete a series of Irish landscapes depicting conditions during the era of the Celtic High Kings of Ireland - works which he based partly on the mythological writings of WB Yeats. He also lectured in art at the College of Art and Design in Dun Laoire, Co Dublin. He has worked and studied with several Irish representational artists including: Norman Teeling, Paul Kelly, Henry McGrane, Kevin McNamara, and John Morris, as well as with English masters like, Spencer Hodge, Adrian Radcliffe and French Artist, Marc Destors.


For late 20th century artworks,
see: Contemporary Art.

Influenced by the likes of Lucian Freud, Richard Schmid, and the great Impressionist from America John Singer Sargent, Nolan's approach to portraiture provides an interesting insight into his artistic philosophy. He is strongly drawn to the historical and literary figures preceding the modern Celtic Tiger: the heroes of the Celtic Dawn, the Irish Literary Renaissance of W.B.Yeats, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, and painters like Jack Butler Yeats and Sir John Lavery. Using his acute powers of observation, his flair for drawing and the tonal language of Impressionism, he seeks to recapture the ability of his predecessors to transmit the legacy of their literature, lore and art which underpins so much of present-day Irish culture. As he says: "It is an honour to bring to canvas the images of these great writers, poets, musicians and thinkers..." His Beckett portrait (see the larger version on Nolan's website) is a case in point. Nolan's treatment of light highlights the powerful nose, the tight concealing mouth and searching eyes. One feels that Beckett is examining you, rather than the other way around - a powerful, almost daunting interpretation.

At the same time, Nolan clearly enjoys holding up his mirror to contemporary figures like Paisley, Morrison and Bono. His acute study of Rev Ian Paisley is a masterful snapshot of ageing doubt, while his Van Morrison work captures a marvellous moment of wistful distraction. One could look at any of these works for hours.

As well as portraits, Nolan has painted a range of plein-air landscapes, cityscapes (see his new series of Venice compositions below), and some beautiful still lifes. Check out his website for more examples.

Although heavily involved in commissions, Nolan has shown works in several solo and numerous group exhibitions, in Ireland and France. His paintings are represented in numerous private and corporate collections.

Our Opinion

Nolan's acute, fascinating portraits place him among the best Irish painters. The fact that they comprise a small percentage of his overall output gives a clear indication of his range and talent. If I wasn't so afraid of what he might see in my face, I'd commission him tomorrow.

To contact David Nolan, or to commission a portrait (prices start at around €1200) or to see more examples of his work, or to find out about the new arts club Oil Painters of Ireland, please visit his website: www.davidnolan.net


• For more about contemporary artists in Ireland, see: Homepage.
• For details of famous painters and sculptors from Ireland, see Irish Artists.
• For a review of portraiture in Ireland, see Irish Portrait Artists.

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