Skip to content | Skip to navigation

Main Menu
Gallery Artists
Artists A-Z



View All Artists

Art Just In


Exhibition Openings and Events

Kennys since 1940

Maps & Prints

Sean Keating

Portrait and figure painter, John Keating was born in Limerick on 28 September 1889.

His father, Joseph Keating, was a bookkeeper at a bakery company. John, who had three brothers and three sisters, was educated at St Munchin's College but was not a good attender, spending hours playing truant on the city's docks. "I was always drawing and scribbling.

At the age of sixteen I had proved myself incapable of doing anything else. I was a dreamer and idler".

My mother decided to send me to the 'Technical School in Limerick for drawing,' he told the author in 1965.

In 1911 he won a scholarship to the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art where he came under the influence of the life school of (Sir) William Orpen (q.v.) and became something of a prototoge.

In 1914 he won the Taylor Scholarship with Appeal for Mercy. He had three works hung at the 1915 Royal Hibemian Academy, The Studio commenting that Annushlca, a seated portrait of a lady in a black dress, was "a vivid piece of painting', and in another large canvas, Pipes and Porter, he displayed "a clear vision and brilliant incisiveness of touch which promise well for his future work".

In 1914 he discovered the Aran Islands and this visit became a turning-point in his life.

He had been overworking at the School of Art and his friend Harry Clarke (q.v.) had suggested a visit to the Aran Islands. Keating demurred as he had only five pounds in his pocket, but Clarke assured him that so much money would go a long way in Inisheer.

Orpen asked Keating to assist him in his studio, and in 1915 he left for London. When he had to return to Ireland the following year; he tried to persuade Orpen to go back with him, saying that he was going to Aran, "there is endless painting to be done', but Orpen remained to become a War artist. Orpen occasionally used him as a model and his portrait may be seen in The Pattern; The Western Wedding; and the Holy Well.

A charcoal study of John Daly is at Aras an Keating, from 10 Lower Gardiner Street, Dublin,resumed exhibiting at the RHA in 1917 and The Studio found his work "strong and decorative.

He has made a study of West of Ireland types, and his figures, painted in flat tones, have a vivid sense of personality. 'The Men of the West 'appeared in that exhibition and the artist later presented it to the Municipal Gallery of ModernArt.

An Allegory and Homage to Frans Hals are in the National Gallery of Ireland collection. The latter, in 1988, was on loan to the fish Embassy in Washington.

In 1919 Keating was appointed an assistant teacher at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art.

In 1919 he was elected an associate of the RHA and in 1923 a full member. In 1921 he had his first one-person exhibition- at The Hall, Leinster Street - and was commissioned to paint Stations of the Cross for the chapel of Clongowes Wood College.

In that year too he painted An IRA Column, 1.5 metres by 1.9 metres. This work is at McKee Barracks in Dublin and includes the leader of a North Cork Column, Sean Moylan; it is the earlier of a similar picture painted by the artist, Men of the South (RHA, 1922), now in the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery, Cork and regarded by the artist as one of his principal works. It was painted in the School of Art, where he had a studio which was also used for private commissions 97 mainly portraits.

In the exhibition of Irish art held in 1924 in connection with Aonach Tailteann, Keating won the gold medal for his large oil painting, Homage to Hugh Lane, now in the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art.

The persons arranged about the portrait of Lane comprise most of those who were prominently associated with him in his efforts to establish a gallery of modern art in Dublin: W.B. Yeats, Thomas Bodkin, Dermod O'Brien (q.v.), George W. Russell (q.v.), W. Hutcheson Poe, Thomas Kelly and R.C. Orpen (q.v.).

The year 1924 saw Keating represented at the Royal Academy, where he was to exhibit fairly regularly over the next thirty years.

He also showed in 1924 at the New Salon, Paris, and in the exhibition organized by theFrench Committee of the Olympic Games. In her Modern Art in Ireland, 1997, Dorothy Walker wrote:

"Keating's paintings of guerrilla fighters in heroic attitudes look like posters for Wild West movies...."

Recalling some sixty years later the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in the 1920s, Hilda van Stockum wrote:

"I admired Sean Keating for looking just as I thought Michelangelo must have looked. He wore rough clothes, a sweeping brown beard and his short hair stood up.' As someone else said, his life-style had a vaguely frugal touch about it.

He was said to be the first man seen in Dublin wearing the crios and bainin. He mastered the Aran dialect of Irish and said the Islands were a revelation: "There was a wonderful background of barren landscape with very agile, handsome men."

Republican Court 1921, oil, is in Collins Barracks, Cork. Keating was commissioned by the ElectricitySupply Board in 1926 to execute a series of pictures illustrating the development of the hydro-electric schemeon the river Shannon.

He lived with the workmen on the building site at Ardnacrusha. The series encompassed a group of drawings and paintings, twenty-six in all, showing the progress of the work until completion in 1929.

Among the titles were: Excavations for Headrace with Steam Shovel and Building site from top of Barrage.

In an exhibition of British Art at Brussels in 1927, The Mountainy Man (1926 RA) was purchased by the Belgian Government.

In 1927 too he provided ten illustrations in colour for a de luxe edition of The Playboy of the Western World.

An allegorical work, Night's Candles are Burnt Out, was exhibited at the 1'9 Royal Academy. In England, the Empire Marketing Board issued in 1929 the poster, Irish Free State Pigs by Keating.

Further afield, he was represented in the exhibition of Irish art at Brussels, 1930, the year he had a solo show at Hackett Galleries, New York.

In the period 1928-58 he exhibited eight works at the Royal Scottish Academy.

In 1931 his one-person exhibition was held at the Victor Waddington Galleries, Dublin. The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, hosted The Overman in a touring exhibition, Contemporary British Painting, in 1932.

In that year he held a one-person show at the Waddington Galleries. He was represented in the Associated Irish Artists exhibition in the Angus Gallery, St Stephen's Green, Dublin, in 1934. In 1937 he was appointed Professor of Painting at the Metropolitan School of Art.

He was not selective about commissions and he carried out designs for Hospitals Trust Ltd for the settings of sweepstake draws.

He also designed a recruiting poster for the formation of the Volunteer Force.

An exhibition at the Victor Waddington Galleries in 1937 attracted considerable attention.

About half of the twenty-eight works were heads in crayon, and one commentator in Ireland To-Day considered the artist at the height of his powers.

"No artistic godfathers, if there are any, are in evidence. These paintings are almost aggressively independent...".

He was the designer of the stamp issued in 1938 commemorating the Centenary of Temperance Crusade which depicted Father Theobald Mathew after the bust by Hogan.

He was also responsible for a mural at the Irish College, Rome: St Patrick lighting the Paschal Fire at Slane.

Keating's decorative capacity showed itself in a great mural of fifty-four panels for Ireland's Pavilion at the New York World's Fair in 1939, a total area of 7.3 metres by 22 metres.

At the same fair he won first prize for The Race of the Gael in an IBM competition from seventy-nine countries.

As for Irish Romanesque at the 1943 RHA, the Dublin Magazine considered it was "not just a successful grouping of an old couple against an architectural background but an exploration into the soul of the people".

Republican Court. 1921 (Crawford Municipal Art Gallery) was hung in the 1946 exhibition in Dublin celebrating the Davis and Young Ireland Centenary.

Keating was also involved with the theatre and designed set and costumes for The Playboy of the Western World.

Another exhibition was held at the Waddington Galleries in 1947.

In 1948 Keating was admitted an Honorary Freeman of the City of Limerick, an appointment that was in danger some years later when on an RTE programme he said that in his day his native city was "a medieval dung heap".

In 1949 he was elected president of the RHA, and in that year he executed a mural, The Scapular Vision for the Carmelite Fathers at Gort Muire, Dundrum, Co. Dublin.

In 1951 he painted Stations of the Cross for St Eunan's Cathedral, Letterkenny.

He showed Ulysses in Connemara in the Royal Scottish Academy exhibition of 1952, and he was represented in the Contemporary Irish Art exhibition at Aberystwyth, 1953.

He also showed at the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts and the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, but his work in Britain was mainly hung in London at Burlington House. He retired from teaching in 1954.

Still actively involved in church commissions, he executed a mural in 1955, St The rese of the Child Jesus, for the Church of St Therese, Mount Merrion, Dublin, and in 1956 in conjunction with the sculptor, Gabriel Hayes (q.v.), he contributed thirteen Stations of the Cross for St John's Church, Tralee.

An exhibition of pastels and drawings was held at the Ritchie Hendriks Gallery, Dublin, in 1956.

Another important mural was commissioned in 1959, on behalf of the Government, for the International Labour Office, Geneva. It was of irregular shape, and measured 3.7 metres by 7.3 metres and took two years to complete.

Keating exhibited nearly 300 works at the RHA - he resigned from the presidency in 1962 - and he also showed at the Oireachtas. In 1963 a retrospective exhibition was held at the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, opened by President de Valera.

Among the works exhibited were: An Aran Fisherman and his Wife, 1916 (HLMGMA), Night's Candles are Burnt Out (Oldham Art Gallery and Museum) and May Dawn (National Museum of Ireland).

In his introduction to the catalogue, James White wrote: "Again and again his pictures have made apparent his contempt for compromise and his conviction that principles can never be sacrificed.

His Allegory

(National Gallery of Ireland) makes clear to the young people of today the conflict of loyalties which followed the 1922 period.'

Keating regarded this painting as one of his principal works.

An exhibition in Belfast at the Bell Gallery was held in 1965. In the Golden Jubilee of the Easter Rising Exhibition in 1966 at the National Gallery of Ireland, he was represented by no fewer than six portraits: John Devoy, Erskine Childers, Terence MacSwiney, Thomas MacCurtain, General Michael Brennan and Dr Ella Webb.

Portraits of Brennan and General Duffy are at McKee Barracks.

In his lifetime he painted about one hundred portraits. A self-portrait is at the NGI, Limerick City Gallery of Art and also at the University of Limerick.

At NGI there is a portrait of Keating by Gaetano de Gennaro (q.v.).

Still remarkably active, he combined with the younger generation, Carolyn Mulholland, sculptor, in an exhibition at the Kenny Art Gallery, Galway, in 1968; three years later he returned there for a solo show. Commemorating the silver jubilee of the opening of the Municipal Art Gallery, Limerick, he joined with Fergus O'Ryan, RHA (q.v.), and Thomas Ryan, RHA, in a 1973 exhibition.

Throughout his life Keating, who lived in the Rathfamham district of Dublin for half a century, took a firm stand on the side of traditional art. Disliking the modem movement, he feared it would bring back a decline in standards.

Despite his outspoken views, his students regarded him as an honest and lovable man, perhaps admired more as an artist and as a personality than as a teacher.

Anything that could be labelled "Modernism' so far as he was concerned, was a hoax.

His death was at the Adelaide Hospital, on 21 December 1977, and he was buried at Cruagh Cemetery, Rockbrook, Rathfarnham. A small memorial exhibition was held at the 1978 RHA.

The Grafton Gallery, Dublin, arranged an exhibition of works on paper in 1986, and in 1987 there was an Irish tour of his works commissioned by the Electricity Supply Board for the Shannon scheme.

Justin Keating's documentary of his father, Sean Keating, was shown on RTE in 1996.

Works signed: Keating, Céitinn; Seán Céitinn, S. Céitinn or K., all three rare.

Examples: Armagh: County Museum. Ballinasloe, Co. Galway: St Joseph's College. Beijing: Irish Embassy. Belfast: Ulster Museum. Bray, Co. Wicklow: Public Library. Brussels: Mused Modeme. Cork: Collins Barracks; Crawford Municipal Art Gallery. Dublin: Aras an Uachtar~in; Church of Ireland See House, Temple Road, Milltown; Church of St Therese, Mount Merrrion; Church of the Holy Spirit, Ballyroan; Co. Dublin Vocational Education Committee; Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies; Electricity Supply Board; Federated Workers' Union of Ireland; Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art; Institution of Engineers of Ireland; McKeeBarracks; Mansion House; National Gallery of Ireland; National Museum of Ireland; Office of Public Works; Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland; University College (Newman House; Earlsfort Terrace). Dundrum, Co. Dublin: Carmelite Fathers, Gort Muire. Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh: Passionist Retreat, The Graan. Galway: National University of Ireland. Glasgow: Art Gallery and Museum. Kilkenny: Art Gallery Society. Letterkenny, Co. Donegal: St Eunan's Cathedral. Limerick: City Gallery of Art; County Library; University, National Self-Portrait Collection. Naas, Co. Kildare: Clongowes Wood College. Oldham, Lancs: Art Gallery and Museum. Rome: Irish College. Sligo: Model and Niland Centre. Tralee, Co. Kerry: St John's Church. Waterford: City Hall, Municipal Art Collection.

Literature: Royal Dublin Society Report of Council, 1"4; The Studio, May 1915, July 1917, September 1923 (also illustration), July 1914, October 1924, November 1951; Seumas O'Brien, The Whale and the Grasshopper, Dublin 1920 (illustration); Dublin Magazine, December 1923 (illustration), October 1924 (illustration), July- September 1943, October-December 1946; John M. Synge, The Playboy of the Western World, London 1927 (illustrations); J. Crampton Walker, Irish Life and Landscape, Dublin 1927 (also illustration); Mary MacCarvill, Rhymer's Wake, London 1931 (illustration); Bulmer Hobson, ed., Saorsalt Eireann Official Handbook, Dublin 1932 (illustrations); Father Mathew Record, June 1934, October 1941 (also illustration); Ireland To-Day, August 1937, December 1937, Patncial Lynch, The Grey Goose of Kilnevin, London 1939 (illustrations); Thomas Bodkin, intro., Twelve Irish Artists, Dublin 1940 (also illustration); The Bell, June 1942; Municipal Gallery of Modem Art, John Keating Paintings-Drawings, catalogue, Dublin, 1963; The Word, April 1965; Irish Independent, 26 January 1967; Kenny Art Gallery, Exhibition of paintings by Sean Keating, RHA and sculptures by Carolyn Mulholland, catalogue, Galway 1968; Ireland of the Welcomes, May-June 1968 (illustration); Limerick Official Guide, n.d.; Irish Times, 4 and 10 December 1971,22 and 23 December 1977, 21 February 1984, 16 March 1985, 30 November 1996; Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1 940, Woodbridge 1976; Liam Miller, Dolmen XXV, Dublin 1976 (illustration); Rev. John Hanly, Letter to the author, 1978; A Dictionary of Contemporary British Artists, 1919, Woodbridge 1981; Guide to St John s Church, Tralee, Tralee 1981, Stephen Constantine, Buy and Build: The Advertising Posters of the Empire Marketing Board, London 1986 (also illustration); Ann M. Stewart, Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts: Index of Exhibitors 1826-1979, Dublin 1986; Touring Exhibitions Service, Sean Keating and the ESB, catalogue, Dublin 1987 (also illustrations); Department of Foreign Affairs, Letter io the author, 1988; Michael Keating, Letter to the author, 1988; The Royal Scottish AcademyExhibitors 1826-1990, Calne 1991 John Turpin, A School of Art in Dublin since the Eighteenth Century, Dublin 1995 (also illustrations); Dorothy Walker, Modern Art in Ireland, Dublin 1997 (also illustration); National Gallery of Ireland, Gallery News, September - November 1999