As the National Gallery of Ireland opens its doors for a new year, Sally Hayden discovers where nature and light hide in January
With the Christmas trees abandoned, work resuming, and the nights still enveloping the days, you’d be forgiven for believing January to be the most depressing month of the year. It is therefore fitting that the National Gallery of Ireland’s annual JMW Turner exhibition is entitled ‘A Light in the Darkness’.
This exhibition is a commemoration of two men; the collector and the creator. Henry Vaughan bequeathed the gallery this watercolour collection in 1900, stipulating in his will that it was only in January that Turner’s works could be displayed, because it was the month when they were least likely to be damaged by the presence of any natural light.
Though electricity has done much to make sunlight completely avoidable since Vaughan’s day, the gallery still honours his last request. Niamh McNally, assistant curator in the NGI states that “it has become something of an occasion in people’s annual calendar to come and see the Turner watercolours.” This makes sense. Turner’s works focus on the beauty of nature, which visitors must find uplifting in the darkest days before spring.
Running alongside this is another exhibition, ‘Fables and Fairytales – Illustrations from the Collection’, featuring prints and drawings dating from 1870-1920. This was “a golden period in children’s book illustration”, according to McNally. Goblins, elves, fairies and dragons are all represented, as imagined by John Butler Yeats, Harry Clarke, and Richard and Charles Doyle (Arthur Conan’s brothers) among others, and thus far has “proved extremely popular with the public”.
The ongoing presentation ‘Masterpieces from the Collection’, featuring “the cream” of the gallery’s acquisitions, is also on display. The focus is on a selection of European art from the early Renaissance to the twentieth century, which is rotated on a regular basis, and currently includes works by James Barry, William Orpen and Charles Jervas. Also to be seen here is a range of Byzantine and Russian icons dating from the 1390s to the 1550s, which demonstrate an alternative and interesting approach to religious art in the West.
The National Gallery is the ideal January destination. Your wallet won’t mind because entry to all exhibitions is free. Your spirit won’t mind, because inside you can escape the cold and gloom. With the natural world in hibernation embrace the artificial light, and use this time of darkness to admire the works of man.
Further information on exhibitions, free talks and tours can be found on www.nationalgallery.ie.
Turner: A Light in the Darkness runs until January 31st.
Fables and Fairy Tales – Illustrations from the Collection runs until the March 25th.