Louis Le Brocquy

Image of James Joyce


Not on display

Louis Le Brocquy 1916–2012
Oil paint on canvas
Image: 703 × 704 mm
Presented by the artist 1989

Display caption

The artist is fascinated by appearances which can both hide and reveal the spirit of an individual. Like many of Le Brocquy's subjects, Joyce, a fellow-Irishman was brilliant and original and experienced great suffering. Le Brocquy's portraits of the novelist followed obsessive research into his work. In executing the portraits he made use of a variety of visual sources, including photographs and a bronze cast of Joyce's death mask. Le Brocquy believes that our kinetic visual culture has destroyed the possibility of achieving a single definitive portrait. He therefore prefers to explore the complex, multifaceted character of the individual through repeated impressions.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Technique and condition

Painted in oil paint on a commercially prepared and stretched canvas. The artist intensified the whiteness of the existing ground with additional applications of thinned titanium white oil paint.

The form of the head was initially washed-in with grey, after which the modelling was elaborated and strengthened with paint of increasing thickness and a richness of texture achieved by using different brush types and a variety of application procedures; liquid linear 'drawing', impastoed paint of a creamy rounded nature, and dry lightly dragged scumbles. Some applications to the white field colour were added at a relatively late stage which overlap and soften the contour modelling of the head.

Apart from very minor deformations in the canvas plane, the painting was in very good condition at the time of acquisition and did not appear to have warranted any remedial attention since being painted.

The frame design had been approved by the artist, indeed he requested that one of the same design be used and substituted for that around the slightly earlier painting, 'Study towards and Image of James Joyce' 1977, which the Tate had acquired in 1979. The artist also considered that the glass in the frame added a, 'peculiar illusory dimension' to the presentation of the painting in addition to its function of protecting the painting from long term soiling.

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