James Stephens, the National Gallery of Ireland, and the 1916 Rising
At the time of the Easter Rising, James Stephens, Registrar at the National Gallery of Ireland, had assumed responsibility for the institution in the absence of the acting Director Walter Strickland, who was in London. Stephens, already an established and decorated writer, took the unusual decision to publish soon after a day-by-day account of his personal experience of Easter week 1916. In the resulting book, The Insurrection in Dublin, he makes references to the National Gallery of Ireland and to encounters with friends, many of them well-known cultural and political figures, during that dramatic week. Living in Fitzwilliam Place, he was relatively free to move to and from the Gallery and other significant places in the city.
His recollections are all the more remarkable as the Minute Books of the National Gallery feature just one reference to the Rising. On 24 May, the Governors and Guardians determined to convey to the Royal Hibernian Academy their sympathy over the destruction of its premises in Lower Abbey Street ‘during the late rebellion’.
The Insurrection in Dublin, first published in 1916, has become a seminal chronicle of the Rising. This display features portraits from the National Gallery of Ireland’s permanent collection of some of the individuals mentioned in the book, as well as portraits of the author himself,and depictions of the city immediately after the conflict.
Adjacent to these hang roughly contemporaneous paintings by four of Ireland’s most celebrated artists: Paul Henry, Sir John Lavery, Sir William Orpen and Jack B. Yeats. Viewed together, they provide a broad impression, both physical and social, of urban and rural Ireland in the early decades of the twentieth century.