Artist and aristocrat, comrade, suffragette and soldier. These are just some of the sides to CONSTANCE MARKIEVICZ, explored in the National Gallery of Ireland’s new exhibition, “Markievicz: Portraits & Propaganda” …
Donal Maguire, Manager, ESB Centre for the Study of Irish Art, is curator of the exhibition which encompasses the centenaries of the parliamentary vote for women in Ireland and the first Dáil, of which Markievicz was an elected member. He tells us more about the exhibition which opens on Saturday October 27.
Countess Markievicz was an enigmatic figure and had so many not always complementary facets. What is your own personal interpretation of her?
She was a complex women whose life, in some ways, reflected a changing Ireland. Rejecting her aristocratic background she became an activist of change for a vision of a new Ireland. In a historical period that has been romanticised to mythic proportions, where fact and fiction are sometimes blurred, her election as the first woman to parliament in 1918 is an indisputable fact and one of the most significant achievements of any individual in Irish history.
The Countess understood the power of self promotion – how is this seen in the exhibition?
A trained artist, Markievicz recognised the potential of portraiture for political expression and propaganda. Presenting herself as Joan of Arc or a militant republican, she used portrait photography to shape her public identity. Her self-styled portrayals as feminist republican, dressed in the uniform of the Irish Citizen Army, was a call to the women of Ireland to join her in taking up arms.
What items from the exhibition has a special resonance for you?
The juxtaposition of her full-length portrayal in ball gown with her photographic portrayal in military uniform. Both items create an interesting contrast on so many levels: the large format painting, created by an artist, at great cost, is unique, a private image, representing a life of privilege. The photograph on the other hand is small, ephemeral, a modern technology, mass produced, controlled by Markievicz and disseminated widely, having huge public impact. The painting represents the life she rejected while the photo represents a vision of her own identity.
Are any of the Countess’s own paintings on display – I believe she was a landscape painter?
A small number of works. A portrait of her sister Eva and some examples of her prison art.
Need to Know: “Markievicz: Portraits & Propaganda” is at the National Gallery of Ireland from October 27 2018 – February 10, 2019. www.nationalgallery.ie. Admission is free.
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