George Wallace at the National Gallery

Picture credit: George Wallace (1920–2009), The Fun Fair at Dun Laoghaire, Etching © Estate of George Wallace and CARCC, 2020 Photo © National Gallery NGI. 2016.159

Born in 1920 at Albert Road, Sandycove, George Wallace was an Irish painter, printmaker and sculptor. On this coming Friday, September 11, his first Irish exhibition in fifty years opens in the National Gallery of Ireland.

Entitled George Wallace: Reflections of Life, it compiles etchings, monotypes, woodcuts and drawings from throughout Wallace’s career, including the comforting image above of the Town Hall and a fun fair at Dún Laoghaire. This summer, the fun fair is located on the plaza by the former ferry terminus.

George Wallace has a deep connection to South Dublin, moving from Sandycove to Killiney as a child. He went to Aravon boarding school in Bray and later attended St. Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains.

The modernist painter May Guinness (1863-1955) lived nearby in Tibradden, which is a beautiful neighbourhood between Cruagh and Kilmashogue mountains. Often referred to locally as Pine Forest, at its highest point there lies a prehistoric burial site that is referred to by Robert Graves in a poetic mythological work entitled The White Goddess (1948).

At 15, Wallace experienced an epiphany in Tibradden that changed his life. An enthusiastic art student, the young George Wallace visited May Guinness’s art collection, which featured works by Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, and Georges Braque and Georges Rouault of les fauvres, French for wild beasts and a movement of early 20th-century artists known as Fauvism, which greatly inspired May Guinness’s work.

Later in his career, Wallace recalled ‘the amazingly vivid paintings such as none of us fifteen-year-olds had ever seen before.’ After her death, May Guinness’s collection, which also included a Pablo Picasso, was auctioned to raise funds to repair the roof of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Anne Hodge, Curator of Prints and Drawings, profiles Wallace superbly here. He read Philosophy at Trinity College Dublin with a view to becoming an Anglican priest, but the church’s loss became art’s gain. George married Margaret Howe in 1946, who he met at Trinity.

On landing a teaching job at Radley College near Oxford, Margaret and George moved to England. At Radley he met Paul Feiler, a member of the St Ives group. Later, the couple moved to Falmouth, a coastal town in Cornwall where they had their first child. At Falmouth, he explored the clay pits and created the St Austell landscapes. His interest in quarries and mines was kindled on childhood holidays at Avoca, Co. Wicklow.

After exhibiting in London and Bristol Wallace was asked to join The Irish Exhibition of Living Art, an annual showcase of Irish abstract expressionism and avant-garde art founded by Mainie Jellet. The Wallace family emigrated to Canada in 1957, where he became a highly regarded professor of art and continued working. He died in 2009.

In 2016, the Wallace family donated over 250 of his works to the National Gallery of Ireland, an extraordinary donation to an institution that continues to benefit from the posthumous patronage of George Bernard Shaw. This landmark exhibition is not to be missed.

George Wallace: Reflections on Life runs from September 11 to December 13, 2020, at the Print Gallery, National Gallery of Ireland. Admission free.

George Wallace (1920–2009), Young Woman in a Striped Dress, 1993. © Estate of George Wallace and CARCC, 2019. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland

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