Revolution recollected in tranquillity and pain

Revolution recollected in tranquillity and pain Woman in a red tie - Oil on canvas Unframed: 61 x 51 cm Framed: 86 x 75 cm © The Trustees of the Estate of Estella Solomons. Private Collection.
Estella Solomons: Still Moments, Room 31, NGI, continues to  January 2023.
Appreciation by Peter Costello

This free exhibition, curated by Niamh MacNally, is supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media under the Decade of Centenaries Programme 2012-2023.

This new show at the National Gallery of Ireland is a small, of select but very absorbing exhibition. Given her status in the first half of the last century, many of the pictures will be familiar, but nevertheless are nice to encounter again. But it also includes a number of little seen paintings, many from private collection or those of associations.

Estella Solomons is of very personal interest too, as my home overlooks “The Grove” in Upper Leeson Street, where she had her studio in later years.

However this exhibition relates to earlier decades mostly to the period of the Irish Revival and the Troubles. So many of her friends were themselves important artists and writers, that those lines of Yeats (written after visiting the Municipal Gallery) come to mind for Estella Solomons also: “Say that my glory was I had such friends”.

Hidden corners

Two images belong to her long quest for the hidden corners of city and country: Leinster Market and the view of Rossapenna from Breaghy; lovely things.

The portraits are mostly of her friends and fellow writers and artists recollecting, as it were, revolution in tranquillity. A very striking image is Woman in a red tie, an image of the “New Women” of the period; wonderful. Also powerful and significant is the portrait of  Rabbi the Rev. Abraham Gudansky, the senior minister at Adelaide Road synagogue, very much a man “behind the scenes at this period”.

One picture, however, which was unfamiliar, was very striking, On Parole painted in 1920. The curator says it is of an unidentified activist, not “on the run”, but just released, perhaps from Ballykinler or Kilmainham.

On Parole – Oil on canvas Unframed: 52 x 44 cm NGI.2017.24 © The Trustees of the Estate of Estella Solomons. Photo National Gallery of Ireland

His expression is not one of fear, but of a troubled mind. I suspect (though the curator’s notes do not suggest this) that this is an image of one of those countless millions who suffered the mental damage, what is now so casually called post-traumatic shock, that deranged too many Europeans in the 1920s and 30s.

It brought to my mind the words of a defence barrister in a Dublin murder trial some years later, that his convicted client should be reprieved from the death penalty, because he had been “driven mad” by the Revolution. Mental health is an aspect of the Decade of Commemorations that the Government’s committee has not addressed.

It is well worth going to see this show for this painting alone. But the others are fine pictures which have long entered the canon of significant Irish art of the 20th century. A show not to be missed.

Images are copyright, and used courtesy of the NGI