Irish Sculpture
History, Characteristics: Famous Sculptors and Sculptures of Ireland.

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Irish Sculpture (c.1800-1995)
History, Characteristics


19th Century Irish Sculptors
Late 19th Century Sculptors
20th Century Irish Sculptors

See below for a brief guide to sculpture in Ireland (1800-1995),
as told through its artists.

For a list of masterpieces, see:
Greatest Sculptures Ever
Top 3-D art in marble, stone,
bronze, wood, steel and
other media.


As is evident from the resources devoted to the prehistoric sculpture of Ireland - such as the pagan Turoe Stone - and then the religious Celtic-style high crosses of the Middle Ages, sculpture has always been a far more problematic and costly art form than painting. Moreover, like architecture, the art of sculpture tends to be more dependent on the study of Greek and Renaissance prototypes. For these reasons, Ireland of the nineteenth century was even less attractive to sculptors than it was to painters, with the result that most studied and worked abroad. Those who remained, or returned, were mostly occupied in satisfying the demand for Church and state. Thus the history of Irish art shows that during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, the medium of sculpture was largely devoted to commemorating deceased bishops, politicians, soldiers and rebels. Not until the second half of the 20th century did the subject matter broaden sufficiently to accomodate real opportunities for individual expression.

Important Works

Women Of Belfast V (1972)
by FE McWilliam

The Dead Christ, a relief sculpture
by John Hogan. For more, see:
Crawford Gallery Sculptures.

For a guide to the chronology
and evolution of 3-D art,
see: Sculpture History.

For a list of the top 100 3-D
artists (500 BCE - present),
see: Greatest Sculptors.

For a discussion of types, styles,
definition and meaning of art,
see: What is Art?
Also see: Plastic Art.

For details, see Celtic Sculpture.

For a list of important dates in the
evolution of sculpture/3-D works,
including movements, schools,
and famous artists, please see:
History of Art Timeline.

19th Century Irish Sculptors

John Foley (1818-74)

John Henry Foley, the first major Irish sculptor, studied at the Royal Dublin Society Art Schools before moving to London as a teenager, where he became one of the youngest exhibitors at the Royal Academy of Arts London. In 1840 he was one of the sculptors selected to decorate the new Houses of Parliament in Westminster, for which he executed statutes of Hampden and Selden. Afterwards he increased his reputation as an important contributor to Victorian art, by completing several more public statues, which led to his most important commission - the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park - for which he carved the statue of Prince Albert and the Asia Group. This established Foley as one of the leading sculptors in the British Isles, although at some cost to his health. In Ireland, during the 1860's Foley completed the Burke and Goldsmith bronze sculptures outside Trinity College, Dublin, as well as the O'Connell Monument in Dublin, all of which make his art an inescapable presence in the heart of the Irish capital.

For a review of ceramic sculpture
including profiles of famous
ceramicists, see: Ceramic Art.

David Seeger (Abstract pieces)
Jane Jermyn (Abstract organic)
Ayelet Lalor (Figurative)
Sara Roberts (Porcelain wall pieces)

Definitions, forms, styles, genres,
periods, see: Types of Art.

John Hogan (1800-58)

If John Foley was the leading exponent of 'Anglo-Irish' sculpture, John Hogan might be considered Ireland's leading Continentalist and Neo-Classicist. Born in County Waterford, though trained in sculpture and classical statutory in Cork, he travelled in 1824 to Rome where he studied Italian Renaissance sculpture, and worked for 24 years, becoming elected to the prestigious Virtuosi del Pantheon. His career as a sculptor in Italy was interrupted by the 1848 Revolution and he returned to Ireland, where he never received either the commissions or the fame which his sculptural talents merited. A good deal of his statuary was Christian art for the Catholic church, such as his statues of Father Mathew the temperance preacher and Bishop Doyle of Kildare and Leighlin.

For two essays on sculpture
appreciation, please see:
How to Appreciate Sculpture
3-D art from Stone Age to 1850.
How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture
From 1850-2000.

Patrick MacDowell (1799-1870)

Foley and Hogan were the preeminent sculptors of the mid-nineteenth century. The only other sculptor of worthy of note is Patrick MacDowell from Belfast. Like Foley, MacDowell spent much of his career in London, executing numerous public commissions including the Statue of Turner in St Paul's. A celebrated artist of his day, he excelled in smaller pieces, although his monumental works were competent and well received.

Later in the 19th century, Foley, Hogan and MacDowell were followed by four more talented Irish artists: John Hughes, Oliver Sheppard, Andrew O'Connor and Jerome Connor.


Late 19th Century Sculptors

John Hughes (1865-1941)

John Hughes was born in Dublin, trained in Dublin, London, Paris and Italy, and spent a good deal of his life in France and Italy. A highly influencial teacher in Dublin at the turn of the century (his portrait was painted by the returning Irish portraitist William Orpen) his Man of Sorrow and Madonna and Child, which he completed for Loughrea Cathedral, are among the few examples of top-class Irish religious art of the past century.

Oliver Sheppard (1864-1941)

Like Hughes, the sculptor Oliver Sheppard studied in Dublin, London and Paris before becoming a respected teacher on his return to Dublin. However, while Hughes was associated principally with British and French Art styles, Sheppard was more overtly nationalistic, and created one of the most memorable of all images of the struggle for Independence - the 1798 Memorial situated in the Bull Ring in Wexford. This type of bold romantic sculpture was Sheppard's forte, although his smaller marble sculptures reveal a gentler more intimate charm.

Andrew O'Connor (1874-1941)

Sharing Sheppard's vigorous realistic style of sculpture, the Irish-American artist Andrew O'Connor was born in Massachusetts but returned to Ireland in his later years. Many of his major works, such as the Statue of Lincoln (Springfield, Illinois) and his bronze Lafayette on Horseback (Baltimore), are in America although a smaller version of the latter is housed in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. (See Daniel Chester French.) His statue of Daniel O'Connell in the National Bank, Dame Stree, Dublin, may be less impressive than Foley's work but it retains a distinctly dramatic quality. O'Connor's bronze sculpture La Faunesse is in the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork and bears comparison with the best Rodin heads.

Jerome Connor (1876-1943)

Jerome Connor, born in County Kerry but raised like Andrew O'Connor in Massachusetts, arrived at sculpture via commercial stone cutting. Returning to Ireland in the early 1920s at the age of 50, Connor rapidly became involved in the fine art of the new Free State, executing portraits of leading politicans as well as designs for the new coinage. Although most noted for his Lusitinia Peace Memorial in Cobh, County Cork, his bronze sculpture of Robert Emmet is one of the classic statues of Irish Nationalism.


20th Century Irish Sculptors

Albert Power (1881-1945)

A younger contemporary of Andrew O'Connor, the academic realist Albert Power became the leader of indigenous Irish sculpture during the two decades following independence in 1922. A master-craftsman in bronze, marble and limestone, his status as the leading 'republican' sculptor and his attachment to movements like the Gaelic League, is echoed by his frequent insistence on using Irish materials such as Durrow limestone from County Offaly.

Rosamund Praeger (1867-1954)

Meanwhile in Ulster, the County Down born sculptress Rosamund Praeger was creating more gentle small-scale sculptures, specializing in children. Examples of her work include her marble piece The Philosopher (Ulster Museum) and Johnny-The-Jig (Holywood).

Joseph Higgins (1885-1925)

By comparison with the fame achieved by other sculptors like John Foley, John Hogan, Patrick MacDowell, John Hughes, Oliver Sheppard, Andrew O'Connor, Albert Power, Rosamund Praeger and Jerome Connor, during the modern era of Irish art, the career of the sculptor Joseph Higgins was received in silence. Born in Ballincollig Cork, Higgins was a night student at the Crawford School of Art and learned modelling and wood carving from his father. In 1924, he won the Bronze Medal for sculpture at the Tailteann Games. Higgins cast sculptures in bronze and also carved in wood and marble. Sadly, his work remained almost unknown during his lifetime and has only been shown in any quantity quite recently, thanks to the efforts of his son-in-law, the great Cork sculptor, Seamus Murphy.

Seamus Murphy (1907-1975)

Higgins' son in law, Seamus Murphy, was born near Mallow and entered the Crawford School of Art in 1921 aged only 14. After working as an apprentice stone carver in Blackpool, Cork, he trained in London and Paris, where he was a student at Colarossi's Atelier and studied with the Irish American sculptor Andrew O'Connor. His early works included the Clonmult Memorial at Midleton, two statues for Bantry Church and a carved figure of the Saint Gobnait in Ballyvourney graveyard. Exhibiting his 3-D art at the Royal Hibernian Academy every year (bar two occasions) from 1935 until his death in 1975, his later works included The Virgin of the Twilight (1943), numerous religious commissions for Ireland and abroad, and a wealth of public statuary. He was elected to the RHA in 1954, became Professor of Sculpture at the RHA in 1964 and died in Cork in 1975. A large Seamus Murphy Memorial Exhibition was held at the Crawford Sculpture Gallery Cork and Douglas Hyde Gallery in 1982.

Oisin Kelly (1915-81)

Oisin Kelly, the foremost Irish sculptor of the generation who came to maturity during the early years of the Irish Exhibition of Living Art (established 1943), was a versatile artist equally adept with bronze, wood, stone or even steel. His large scale commissions (such as the Dublin sculptures, The Fate of The Children of Lir and Chariot of Fire) as well as his religious statuary Church were executed in his customary polished style, although his smaller sculptures like his bronze birds and animals, and his wood carving The Dancing Sailor, were even more refined.

F E McWilliam (1909-92)

Kelly's slightly older contemporary, the Northern Irish sculptor F E McWilliam, was first noted for his 1930s Surrealism, but was influenced by many other styles and sculptors including Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. This was reflected in his use of a wide range of sculptural materials such as bronze, stone, wood and cement. As well as his politically-inspired bronze statues entitled Women of Belfast, he is best remembered for The Princess Macha outside Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry.

Other 20th Century Irish Sculptors

From the 1950s onwards, sculpture in Ireland has witnessed an increasing diversity of styles, subjects and media. Among the noted modern and contemporary Irish sculptors are the following.

Melanie Le Brocquy (b.1919), sometimes referred to as 'the sculptor's sculptor' because of the subtlety of her small-scale, almost miniature, bronzes. Gerda Froemel (1932-75), the German-Czech born artist who worked in bronze, steel, stone and alabaster, displaying signs of various European influences including Giacometti, Brancusi and Lehmbruck. Alexandra Wejchert (b.1921) the Polish-born Irish-based sculptress known for her metal or perspex abstract works, in particular Freedom, her 12-feet-high metal sculpture outside the Allied Irish Bank's Complex at Ballsbridge, Dublin. Imogen Stuart (b.1927), is another highly versatile artist working in a range of media including bronze, stone and wood. Much of her finest work has been commissioned by the Church, and her style incorporates numerous motifs from Barlach medieval to Celtic art. The contemporary steel sculptor, Conor Fallon (1939-2007) a native of County Wexford got his start in St Ives although his mature style is closer to European masters like Brancusi. Other important Irish sculptors of the second half of the twentieth century include: Hilary Heron (1923-76), Patrick McElroy (b.1923), Ian Stuart (b.1926), Deborah Brown (b.1927), Edward Delaney (1930-2011), John Behan (b.1932), Michael Bulfin (b.1939), Brian King (b.1942), John Burke (b.1946), Dorothy Cross (b.1956) and Eamonn O'Doherty (1930-2009).

See also: 20th Century Sculptors.

Rowan Gillespie (b.1953)

One of the most eloquent of contemporary Irish artists, Rowan Gillespie trained at York School of Art, Kingston College of Art (London) and Kunst og Handverke Skole in Norway. Exhibiting widely in Europe, Gillespie is noted for numerous representational sculptures including The Blackrock Dolmen, The Kiss, The Age of Freedom and Famine (all in Dublin), The Cashel Dancers (Cashel), W.B.Yeats (Sligo), The Singer (Limerick City) and The Cycle of Life and The Minstrels in Colorado, USA.

To see more works by Irish sculptors, visit the National Gallery of Ireland Sculpture section.


• For more information about 3-D art in Ireland, see: Homepage.

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