PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has led tributes to artist Louis le Brocquy who died today.
The 95-year-old, self-taught modernist passed away at his Dublin home after struggling with illness for the past year.
His wife, the renowned artist Anne Madden, was by his side at the time.
Best-known for his abstract portraits of literary and artistic personalities, the father-of-three was seen as Ireland’s greatest living contemporary artist.
Regarded in the same vein as artists like Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, his work can be found in some of the world’s best-known collections, including New York’s Guggenheim and London’s Tate.
President Higgins said: ‘Louis le Brocquy’s pioneering approach to art, influenced by the European masters, was highly inspirational. His works, including the ‘Tinker’ paintings, broke new ground and opened dialogue around the human condition and suffering.
‘Through painting, tapestry and print, le Brocquy has provided us with individual works and collections that give the insight and response of an artist of genius to Irish history, culture and society.’ His works regularly reach the €1million mark at auctions – still a rare achievement for artists during their lifetimes.
His A Family was the first ever piece by a living artist to be acquired by The National Gallery of Ireland, which paid €2.75m for it. The painting had initially been rejected when it was first presented to the Dublin Municipal Gallery in 1952 and led to protests by other artists.
It was labelled by its critics as ‘unwholesome and satanic distortion of natural beauty’ and ‘bewildering and repulsive’.
The painting went on to receive international acclaim at the Venice Biennale in 1956, and was given historical recognition in Cinquante Ans d’Art Moderne.
It remained out of the country for nearly 50 years before finally being hung in the National Gallery. As one columnist said at the time: ‘The prophet has finally been honoured in his own land.’
Jimmy Deenihan, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, said: ‘Louis was the first truly internationally successful Irish modernist.
‘His work has received due international attention and many accolades in a career that spanned a remarkable seven decades of creative practice.
‘There always was a daring in the subtlety with which he addressed his subjects over a blessedly long creative career, and this was recognised throughout the art world.’
Pat Moylan, chairman of the Arts Council, said: ‘The council is deeply saddened at the passing of Louis le Brocquy. ‘Louis was one of the most important visual artists that Ireland has produced.’ Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International Ireland – which le Brocquy’s mother Sybil helped found – also paid tribute.
Of the artist, Mr O’Gorman said: ‘Throughout an artistic career characterised by innovation and genius, Louis le Brocquy retained a passionate commitment to people facing persecution and to doing what he could to support those struggling against oppression in the world’s darkest corners.’
LeBrocquy was born in Dublin in November 1916, the eldest son of Albert and Sybil.
As a boy, his first art teacher was Elizabeth Yeats. While at school in St Gerard’s in Bray, Co. Wicklow, Stuart Dodgson Collingwood – one of the teachers and a nephew of Lewis Carroll – tried to encourage him to become an artist.
Le Brocquy ‘light-heartedly’ took up art while at college, creating a number of works which he entered into the Royal Hibernian Academy exhibition of 1937. Two were accepted by the prestigious academy.
He later claimed that studying Dutch master Rembrandt gave him ‘the deepest insight’. By 1956, he was representing Ireland at the Venice Biennale, where he won the Premio Acquisito Internationale, and at the historic Fifty Years of Modern Art exhibition at the 1958 Brussels World Fair.
Later work was mainly taken up with his famous head paintings, which included portraits of W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Francis Bacon, Seamus Heaney and Bono.
In 2007, he received the Freedom of Dublin.
He is survived by his daughter Seyre, and Pierre and Alexis, his sons with Anne Madden.
A public service commemorating his life will be held on Saturday at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.