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Described by Crookshank and Glin (Ireland’s Painters, p.299) as one of the great portraits of the first half of the twentieth century, this painting of ‘AE’ is indeed a masterpiece of the portrait painter’s art. Beetle-browed and intense, he looks directly at the spectator, tugging his lapels as if emphasising a point in conversation. Such a dynamic portrayal seems entirely apt for this ‘myriad minded’ man, whose career comprised that of poet, painter, mystic, economist, journalist and prominent participant in the Irish Literary Revival. The work was painted in the library of his home in Rathgar Avenue, Dublin, with the accoutrements of his life in the background, namely, his books and one of his mystical-themed pictures.
The painting was an extremely prestigious commission for the young Dublin portrait painter Hilda Roberts, who apparently executed the work on six Sunday mornings and found her sitter ‘a very interesting and sympathetic person to paint’. Besides portraits, Roberts also produced landscapes and book illustrations and was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Hibernian Academy until 1979.