Irish Art Guide
History of Painting, Sculpture in Ireland, Best Museums, Exhibitions, Arts Colleges.

For general information,
see: Art in Ireland.
For biographies of artists,
see: Irish Painters & Sculptors.

Guide to Irish Art (3,000 BCE - present)


Origins of Irish Art
Celtic Irish Art
Christian & Monastic Irish Art
Irish Painting
Irish Sculpture
Visual Arts in Ireland Today: the Main Arts Organizations
Museums and Galleries

Kerbstone Engravings at
Knowth Passage Tomb, Ireland.
Although overshadowed by the more
famous tomb at nearby Newgrange,
the Knowth megalithic monument
is the largest of all passage tombs
on the UNESCO World Heritage site
in the Boyne Valley, Co Meath, and
is home to about one quarter of all
the megalithic art in Western Europe.

Origins of Irish Art

The cultural history of Ireland has been hugely influenced by Paganism as well as Christianity, although its origins remain obscure. Our coverage of Irish Stone Age art begins with megaliths and other Neolithic monuments such as the Newgrange Megalithic Tomb and the nearby Knowth Megalithic Tomb in County Meath, both of which are decorated with numerous examples of megalithic art, such as rock carvings and relif sculptures; Irish Bronze Age art focuses on metallurgy (c.2000-1100), and leads into Irish Iron Age art (c.1100-200 BCE) which coincides with Celtic art. From 300 BCE onwards, Irish culture was more and more influenced by the newly arrived Celts, largely as a result of their iron-making skills which gave them an important military edge over the indigenous Irish clans.

Unfortunately, the truth surrounding Celtic culture was greatly confounded by the British antiquarian William Stukeley (1687-1765), who linked the Celts with ancient archeological structures like Stonehenge and Avebury. In fact, these megalithic monuments (as well as those in Ireland), were created by Neolithic people some two Millennia before the arrival of the Celts - who did not actually appear in Europe until about 1000 BCE, and Ireland about 500 BCE. Celtic culture did not evolve into a coherent form until 850 BCE, and was contemporaneous with Etruscan and early Greek civilization, rather than Stonehenge or Newgrange - both of which were built about 2000-2500 years earlier.

During the Irish Civil War
Munster, the southernmost
province of Ireland, declared
its independence from the
rest of Ireland! Home of
Ireland's second city, Cork,
as well as several Gaeltacht
areas, its most famous
artists include the sculptor
Seamus Murphy, and the
history painters James
Barry & Daniel Maclise.
For more, see:
Visual Arts in Munster.

Connacht, the westernmost
province in Ireland, has the
fewest inhabitants, but the
highest proportion of Gaelic
speakers in its Gaeltacht
areas. Roderic O'Conor
and Jack Butler Yeats are
its most famous painters.
For more, see:
Visual Arts in Connacht.

Leinster, is richest and
most populous province
in Ireland. It is home to
the capital city Dublin,
and all the country's
important rivers, like the
Barrow, Boyne, Liffey
and Shannon. It is the
native province of scores
of top artists, including:
the great stained glass
genius Harry Clarke, the
notorious Francis Bacon,
and the academic realist
sculptor Albert Power.
See: Visual Arts in Leinster.

Celtic Irish Art

In any event, both the Hallstadt Celtic culture and later La Tene Celtic culture - characterized by its distinctive style of abstract geometric art and stylized bird and animal designs - found full expression in a range of Irish arts and crafts. Examples of Celtic metalwork art produced in Ireland during this time include: the Petrie Crown (c.100 BCE), the Broighter Gold Collar (1st century BCE), the bronze trumpet from Loughnashade in County Armagh, and the famous Tara Brooch (c.700 CE).

Celtic-style abstract designs were applied to a wide variety of artifacts, including monumental sculpture, of which the best surviving example is the precisely executed decoration on the Turoe Stone, located in County Galway.

The Celts settled in Ireland, taking full advantage of its isolated geographical position, which afforded them security against both the Roman legions (50 BCE - 300 CE) and later Barbarian hordes (350-700 CE). At the same time, following the arrival in Ireland of the Christian missionary St Patrick, Christian monasteries sprang up across the country attracting sons and daughters of the higher classes, who rapidly formed a cohesive body of monks, scholars and scribes.

Christian Irish Art

Latin scholarship, God-fearing monks and local master-craftsmen steeped in the tradition of Celtic design and metalwork, all combined to produce a mini-renaissance in the medium of Biblical art and illumination which led to the Golden Age of Irish illuminated manuscripts. We profile the most renowned of these, including: the Cathach of St. Columba (early 7th century), the Book of Durrow (c.670), and the Book of Kells (c.800), including its Monogram Page.

In addition to the beautiful illustrations, carpet pages and other examples of Celtic designs, the clasps and bindings of these heavy manuscripts - with their precious metals and precious gems - testify to the metalworking skills of the goldmiths and other medieval craftsmen employed in the monastery workshops. The same can be said of such masterpieces of early Christian art (c.500-900 CE) as the Derrynaflan Chalice (c.650-1000), the Moylough Belt Shrine (8th century CE), the Ardagh Chalice (8th/9th century CE), as well as Christian processional crosses including the Tully Lough Cross (8th/9th century CE), and the Cross of Cong (1125 CE) created for King Turlough O'Connor.

Ulster, the northernmost
province of Ireland, includes
the six counties of Northern
Ireland and three from the
Republic. It also includes,
an isolated Gaeltacht area
which is home to the
Tory Island Primitive School
of Art. Top Ulster-born
artists include John Butler
Yeats, Gerard Dillon, and
Dan O'Neill. For more, see:
Visual Arts in Ulster.

• What key factors influenced the
history of Irish art?
• How were illuminated manuscripts
made in the Christian monasteries?
• What is the Lebor Gabala Erenn?
• How did the different genres like
landscape, genre-painting and
portraiture, evolve in Ireland?
• Who were the best artists during
the 19th century?
• How did Irish Painting develop
during the 20th Century?
• How did Impressionist painting
develop in Ireland?
• Who pioneered Cubism in Ireland?
• How did modern sculpture develop
in Ireland?
• Who are the best contemporary
painters and sculptors?
• Which organizations have the
most impact on Irish art?
• Which are the best art museums
and galleries in Dublin?
• Which are the best art colleges
in Ireland?
• Who is the greatest Irish painter?
• Which are the most expensive Irish paintings ever?

For answers to these and other
popular queries concerning
arts & crafts in Ireland, see:
Irish Art Questions.

Monastic Irish art contributed to the history of Western art in several ways. First, Irish monasteries taught artist-monks drawing, painting, illustration, illumination and calligraphy. Second, they sponsored a huge range of metal artifacts from metalworkers and metallurgical artists, ranging from adornments for biblical manuscripts to ecclesiastical vessels and accessories. Many involved the development and strengthening of techniques such as riveting, soldering, lost-wax casting, cloisonné enamelling and filigree gold-work. Third, they commissioned a large number of Celtic High Cross sculptures on sites throughout Ireland. These biblical works were created mostly during the period (c.750-1150), and are the largest body of free-standing sculpture constructed in the thousand years between the collapse of Rome (c.400) and the Early Renaissance (c.1400). Indeed, by keeping alive the flame of classical European culture during this time, Ireland - along with Byzantine culture and that of the Carolingian and Ottonian courts - helped to pave the way for the seminal accomplishments of the Florentine Renaissance of the fifteenth century.


We also cover Irish fine arts created during the modern era (c.1700-2000). As far as Irish painting is concerned, we explore all the genres, except still life, and provide biographical details on ALL famous Irish artists. In addition, see our personal summary of the Best Irish Artists (Painters) still living.


We profile Irish portrait artists (c.1680-2000), including: Garret Morphy (fl.1680-1716), Charles Jervas (1675-1739), the Tipperary-born James Latham (1696-1747), Sir Martin Archer Shee (1769-1850), William Mulready (1786-1863), Sarah Purser (1848-1943), Roderic O'Conor (1861-1940), John Butler Yeats (1839-1922), Sarah Cecilia Harrison, the genius William Orpen (1878-1931), James Sinton Sleator (1889-1950), Leo Whelan (1892-1956), Maurice Macgonigal (1900-1979), the surreal expressionist Francis Bacon (1909-92), Louis le Brocquy (1916-2012), Edward McGuire (1932-1986), David Nolan (b.1966), and others.


We also have biographies of Irish landscape artists (c.1720-2000), including: Susanna Drury (fl. 1733-70), William Ashford (1746-1824), Thomas Roberts (1749-78), James Arthur O'Connor (1792-1841), William Sadler (1782-1839), Francis Danby (1793-1861), Rose Maynard Barton (1856-1929), Joseph Malachy Kavanagh (1856-1918), the eminent John Lavery (1856-1941), Stanhope Forbes (1857-1947), Dermod O'Brien (1865-1945), Paul Henry (1876-1958), the townscape painter Harry Kernoff (1900-1974), the abstract artist Tony O'Malley (1913-2003), and the Impressionists Donald Teskey (b.1956), John Morris (b.1958), Paul Kelly (b.1968), Henry McGrane (b.1969), and many others.


In addition, we explore the careers of Irish genre painters (19th/20th century), including: James Brenan (1837–1907), Walter Frederick Osborne (1859-1903), Henry Jones Thaddeus (1859-1929), Nathaniel Hill (1861-1934), the immortal Jack B Yeats (1871-1957), Sean Keating (1889-1977), Leo Whelan (1892-1956), Gerard Dillon (1916-1971), Colin Davidson (b.1968), and others.

We also examine the careers of history painters like James Barry (1741-1806) and Daniel Maclise (1806-70), and still-life virtuosos such as William Scott (1913-89), James English (b.1946) and Conor Walton (b.1970).

Styles/Types of Painting

During the 20th century, the arts hierarchy in Ireland divided into two opposing camps: the academic-style traditionalists led by Sean Keating, centred on the Royal Hibernian Academy; and a more 'internationalist', cosmopolitan group (led by Mainie Jellett) who eventually established the Irish Exhibition of Living Art. We review Irish Painting Styles of the 20th Century, and profile the Irish Exhibition of Living Art.

In addition, we look at the leading Abstract Artists of Ireland, and explore plein-air painting. Our list of the Most Expensive Irish Paintings features some of the country's finest works.




We also cover the history and development of Irish sculpture, and profile the leading Irish sculptors. These include the neo-classical John Hogan, the Anglo-Irish John Foley, the Northern Ireland artist Rosamund Praeger, the Nationalist Oliver Sheppard, the Cork stone sculptor Seamus Murphy, the Surrealist F.E.McWilliam, the continental sculptress Alexandra Wejchert, the steel sculptor Conor Fallon, the modernist bird sculptor Oisin Kelly, the expressionist Edward Delaney, the contemporary Eamonn O'Doherty and the figurative sculptor Rowan Gillespie.


We also provide several chronological lists of painters and sculptors, categorized by century. They include: Irish Artists of the 18th Century (1700-1800); Irish Artists of the 19th Century and Irish Artists of the 20th Century. We also cover the most exciting Contemporary Irish Artists.

Visual Arts in Ireland: the Main Organizations

We cover the present state of visual arts in Ireland, by exploring the major Irish Art Organizations, as well as the cultural and heritage program in each county.

We profile government bodies like the Department of Arts, its lead agency the Arts Council (An Chomhairle Ealaion), and its promotional arm Culture Ireland (Cultur Na hEireann). In addition, we examine a selection of important artist groups including Aosdána (people of the arts), Cork Printmakers (providing facilities in etching, photo-intaglio, screen-printing, lithography and relief printing), and the National Sculpture Factory (a multi-functional resource also based in Cork).

Irish Art Across the 32 Counties

We examine visual art and culture in each of the 32 counties.

In Leinster, we explore Dublin (the Jackeens), Carlow (The Dolmen County), Kildare (the Lilywhites), Kilkenny (the Cats), Laois (the O'Moore County), Longford (the Slashers), Louth (the Wee County), Meath (the Royal County), Offaly (the Faithful County), Westmeath (the Lake County), Wexford (the Yellowbellies) and Wicklow (the Garden of Ireland). In Munster, we look at Cork (The Rebels), Clare (the Banner County), Kerry (the Kingdom), Limerick (the Shannonsiders), Tipperary (the Stone Throwers) and Waterford (the Deise). In Connacht, we profile Galway (the Tribesmen), Mayo (the Yew County), Leitrim (the O'Rourke County), Roscommon (the Sheepstealers) and Sligo (the Yeats County). And in Ulster, Antrim (the Glensmen), Armagh (the Orchard County), Derry (the Oak-Leaf County), Down (the Ardsmen), Fermanagh (the Maguire County), Tyrone (the O'Neill County), Cavan (the Briefne County), Donegal (the Tir Chonaill County) and Monaghan (the Farney).

Cultural Monuments

In addition, we explore many surviving archeological monuments in Ireland, including man-made structures as well as natural earth or rock features reshaped by man. They range from the famous passage tomb at Newgrange to petroglyphs with cup and circle designs, ringforts or raths, castles, round towers, abbeys, monasteries and churches. We also profile a number of architectural monuments in Ireland, representative of Mesolithic and Neolithic cultures, La Tene designs, Christian monastic culture, Norman traditions, as well as English traditions of architecture and the decorative arts.


We also look at art courses across Ireland, including educational opportunities at: the National College of Art and Design (NCAD), the Crawford College of Art & Design, as well as schools in Leinster, in Connacht, in Munster, and Ulster.

Museums and Galleries in Ireland

We cover all major Irish Art Exhibitions - of painting, fine art prints, sculpture, and contemporary forms of visual art, like installation, video and concept art - at all the national Irish Art Galleries. These venues include: the National Gallery of Ireland, the more contemporary Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), the more oriental Chester Beatty Library, the Dublin Hugh Lane Gallery and others. In Cork, we cover the traditional Crawford Art Gallery and the modernist Lewis Glucksman Gallery. In Limerick, we profile the fascinating National Self-Portrait Collection, in Belfast the Ulster Museum of Fine Arts, among many others.

• For more about painting, sculpture and architecture in Ireland, see: Homepage.

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