With no attempt to display the artwork in order to draw attention to artistic elements of style, composition, colour or form, this exhibition is primarily of historical interest rather than aesthetically appealing.
That said, the exhibition does adopt a slightly alternative angle to the renowned events by emphasising Sir Hugh Lane’s attempt to establish a gallery of modern art in Dublin in 1913, which was supported by Lockout leaders James Larkin and the Labour Party. Central to its foundation, the Hugh Lane Gallery therefore aligns itself in favour of the underpaid workers of the Lockout and also seemingly with many Irish 20th century artists.
Walter Osborne’s The Fishmarket invokes a sympathetic response from the viewer in contrast to the harsh shadow used by Sir John Lavery in his portrait of Sir Edward Carson; who is portrayed with a cruel, bored stare, completely absent of emotion.
In fact, the curators tell us that when compared with Sir John Lavery’s portrait of John Redmond, Carson himself thought Redmond’s portrait was better than his and, knowing that Lavery was a Belfast Catholic, remarked, “It’s easy to see which side you’re on.”
This emphasis on providing detailed social context establishes Dublin Divided: September 1913 as having used Marxist art historical methodologies as opposed to formalist ones; befitting considering the socialist themes portrayed.
The gallery provides reams of information throughout the exhibition that recount the relevance of each image and are imperative to read in order to gain insight into the exhibition’s purpose. Therefore, it is as equally suitable to the historian, politician or sociologist as the art historian.
Excluding the formalists, however, any temptation to walk through the galleries simply viewing the images should be strictly resisted due to the danger of aimlessly walking through the exhibition and finding yourself browsing the gallery bookshop within a matter of minutes.
The quintessential artwork of the exhibition is Maurice McGonigal’s Dockers. This piece shows three working-class stevedores awaiting confirmation that they will have work on a particular day. The vibrant red background in the painting seems to reference the prospective violence that ensued on the 31st of August, 1913’s Bloody Sunday, which saw over 300 people injured by the police force.
The fact that the subject matter of Dockers was considered worthy of cultural concern shows the interwoven relationship between the Irish working-class and famous Irish painters such as Lavery, William Orpen and George Russell. This relationship, which is referenced to throughout the exhibition, suggests that the curators of Dublin Divided: September 1913 hope to illustrate that the parallels between economics, society and culture during the Lockout as the Irish citizens sought cultural liberation in addition to economic and social liberation.
Hugh Lane Gallery – Dublin Divided: September 1913, free admission, ends 2nd February 2014.