Though Lhote taught Jellett the Cubist approach,
would radically alter her perspective. Jellett must have been eager for such a theoretical yet dynamic instructor—she and Hone literally turned up on the artist’s doorstep, asking to be taught. Gleizes was, reportedly, terrified. He insisted he didn’t teach, but Jellett and Hone insisted right back: “What you do corresponds exactly to what we are looking for.”
But despite her famed instructors, Jellett’s work was entirely individual. She, like all the best students, took what she learned from the masters and made it her own.
To start, Jellett returned to Ireland in 1923. “She wanted to be a modern painter in the national narrative of her homeland. She felt that that was her path,” said Guerrero. After the scathing Decoration reviews, she continued to challenge the Dublin art world, through lectures, teaching, and exhibitions. Her redemption was swift. She went from being perceived as artistic malaria to being represented in the Irish section of the exhibition at the 1928 Olympic Games. At the end of her life, Jellett even co-founded the Irish Exhibition of Living Art in 1943, an annual show celebrating art that didn’t subscribe to convention.
It makes sense that Ireland grew attached to Jellett, since the artist was always so attached to her country. Jellett’s work uniquely highlights key themes in her nation’s history; in particular, a reckoning with Irish Catholicism. As in Decoration
, much of Jellett’s work harmonizes two seemingly incongruous features: the cutting edge of abstract art and deeply religious principles. Especially in her pieces from the 1920s, her compositions are geometric and two-dimensional, yet one can make out shapes resembling altars, halos, and the
. For Jellett, this wasn’t a contradiction at all. Guerrero points out that “certain
quoted in her work was already abstract and two-dimensional, such as the flatness of golden backgrounds in icon portraiture.” In this way, abstraction was a superior means of representing religious symbols compared to, say, realism.