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'The Olympia', Dublin (c.1935-36)


During the 1930s Maurice MacGonigal painted a series of urban subjects quite different in spirit from the clear and lucid landscapes of the west of Ireland for which he is best known. The Olympia, Dublin is one of the most unusual of the group and suggests the influence of Sickert in the depiction of a faded nineteenth-century theatre interior, with figures and surfaces painted in unnaturally vivid colours. The actors on stage wear faintly ridiculous music hall costumes and are placed at the edge of the composition, heightening the sense of raucous merriment. MacGonigal made numerous pencil studies for this painting during various visits to the theatre, sometimes with the painter Harry Kernoff, who appears on the extreme left in a hat. The other standing figure is Leo Smith, the owner of the Dawson gallery. MacGonigal was one of the most original and accomplished artists of his generation. He trained in the stained glass studio of his uncle Joshua Clarke and in 1923 won a scholarship to the Metropolitan School, where he was influenced by Keating and Tuohy and later taught. MacGonigal had a lifelong interest in the theatre and designed sets and posters for the Abbey Theatre. He succeeded Keating as President of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1962.