Face to Face: Anthony Palliser’s Irish Portraits

1st June – 2nd September 2018

‘The portrait is disappearing now,’ wrote the French poet Yves Bonnefoy in 1991, ‘a bad sign for the future’. The portrait hasn’t disappeared, any more than the landscape, but it would indeed be a bad sign if it did. It would mean we had lost interest in the unique human life with its unique vision, such a vision as is celebrated here with devotion and skill of the first magnitude.

– Derek Mahon (2009; Preface to the Anthony Palliser exhibition catalogue, Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah, Georgia, USA).

Over eighty portraits of more than thirty renowned Irish cultural figures, completed over a sixteen-year period by the Anglo-Belgian painter Anthony Palliser, will be on display at Farmleigh Gallery, in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, from Friday 1st June until Sunday 2nd September.

Featured in the exhibition will be paintings and drawings of individuals who have, over the past fifty years, contributed significantly to the development of Irish cultural life and its international reputation and appreciation. These include Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, Paddy Moloney, Siobhán Armstrong, Thomas Kinsella, Edna O’Brien, John Boorman, Colm Tóibín, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Brian Friel, Bill Whelan, John Banville, Sinéad Cusack, John Montague, Paul Muldoon, John Hurt and the late The Honourable Garech Browne, amongst many others. To be unveiled at the exhibition will be Palliser’s recently-completed portrait of the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins.

Anthony Palliser was born in Brussels in 1949, the son of Sir Michael Palliser and Marie Marguerite Spaak. His paternal grandfather was Admiral Sir Eric Palliser, an important British naval officer during the Second World War, and his maternal grandfather was Paul-Henri Spaak, the Belgian statesman and one of the founding fathers of the European Union.

Having received his early education at the Catholic Downside school, Palliser briefly attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome and went on to graduate from New College Oxford, after which, in 1971, he moved to his beloved Paris, where he still lives with his wife, Diane Lawyer.

Forever working and tackling different themes, Palliser has produced many first-rate portraits of a wide variety of internationally recognised personalities and friends from the worlds of the arts and politics, including Marianne Faithful, Kenzo Takada, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sir Michael Howard and Charlotte Rampling, to name but a few. His masterful portrait of Graham Greene hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Palliser’s selection of Irish subjects began in 2002 with a painting of the poet Derek Mahon, to whom he was introduced by Garech Browne of Luggala. A long-time friend of Browne, it was through him that Palliser developed his contacts and relationships with many of the individuals who are featured in this exhibition.

The art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon recently compared the portrait to a time machine. It is in exactly this context that Palliser’s exceptional paintings and drawings work so well, capturing each sitter at a particular moment in time, usually at the peak of their artistic powers and standing, and, in this case, especially in regards to the widespread recognition that they have received, at home and abroad, for their contributions to Irish culture.

Through his brush, pen and pencil, Palliser has distilled, to the fundamental spiritual level, the character of each of his subjects. The result is a peeling away of the outward, self-protecting layers of each person’s public persona and the laying bare, for all to see, face to face, of each sitter’s inner, private world. From the drawing of a simple line, their essence and dignity has been gently revealed.

This exhibition has been curated by Kieran Owens, and is being presented by the Office of Public Works and the British Council as a major contribution to the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018. It will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue, containing contributions by John Boorman, Lara Marlowe, Sophie Gorman and Anthony Palliser. The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of The Honourable Garech Browne, who died in March of this year.