Two of my three children go on their merry way at the end of this week: my eldest, Honor, is well established in Dublin. Of the two who have lived with us at home for the last while, Paddy is 22 and starts his Erasmus soujourn in Nancy, eastern France, and Liv returns to university in Dublin, where she’s studying architecture. And so they are trying to fit in as many fun things with their friends and family as they can before they go.
Liv had long planned a date in Dublin with her boyfriend Arthur, and I wanted to go to Dublin too, to meet my sister, brother and mother in various restaurants and art exhibitions, so we decided to travel up on the train together. Liv and Arthur are delightful company, and the journey passed very quickly. On the train I had a whim: I would pay a visit to the Irish Georgian Society and see what I could learn about Tyrone House, which as regular visitors to my blog will know, is a ruined 18th-century manor house just up the road from my home in Galway, and a subject which I have sketched dozens of times.
I spoke to a volunteer in the irish Georgian Society and we fixed a time. I invited Liv and Arthur to come with me, as they have wonderfully timeless souls, and love learning about every aspect of the world, especially its cultural past. The Irish Georgian Society is exactly as you would wish it to be: housed on one of the prettiest streets in central Dublin, in a Georgian house, beside the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, another stunning Georgian residence at one time.
It was delightful. The volunteer I spoke to, Claire, was happy to show us around the beautiful building, and Liv and Arthur were excited to see the paintings and architectural features which Claire explained to us. She was very helpful and found me more information on Tyrone House than I could possibly have wished for – and she even had a book, published about seven years ago, that was available for purchase.
It is beautifully written by Robert O’Byrne, and my family – kids and all – are lining up to read it when I am finished with it. (Between preparing and teaching my classes, making my YouTube videos, writing a blog, starting my next book AND getting my daily walks in, I can feel some very early starts ahead to fit in everything I have lined up this spring…all of which I love doing, so there are zero complaints from this quarter!)
I will save the details of 18th-century life amongst the landed gentry in the west of Ireland for another day – when I have read more than one chapter would be wise – but I think you’ll find it as fascinating as I do.
Liv and Arthur went off on their date, and I spent the next few hours with my older brother and sister: at the Chester Beatty we visited an exhibition by Imogen Stuart, a sculptor, still alive and working into her nineties. I didn’t have strong feelings either way about the work, but I very much liked this piece, called Black Madonna. It’s quite large, about a metre and a quarter perhaps, and is a good example of the look of Ms Stuart’s work. There were other pieces I very much liked too.
After that we trotted upstairs to the permanent collection of art from the Middle East, which is breathtaking in its skill and beauty. My brother told me to pipe down – apparently I was talking across the room to my sister – and then he proceeded to fill us in on facts about exhibits in a ridiculously over-quiet whisper, presumably to inspire me as to how one should converse in a museum or gallery. It’s not the first time I have been shushed in a museum – a meanie in the Heraklion Archaeology Museum did likewise (I think she might have been an actual harpie) so I am considering keeping my voice down on future visits to museums and galleries. A pint of Guinness followed in an old Dublin pub on Dame Street, and dinner in a family-run Italian restaurant, lit by fluorescent bulbs, that contained THREE small tables and a large wooden counter, where we could watch the assistant chef slapping pizza dough around – and from which we could, if we wanted to, reach out and fiddle with the controls of his pizza oven. My brother had been trying to get a table there for months, but he’d never managed to make contact via phone or email…so he was pleased to get a reservation, and not a little curious. The meal was expensive, but I have never had a pizza like it. If I was looking for more venues to sketch for a book on Dublin, I would include it, for its quirkiness and quality.
The following day I visited an exhibition of work by an esteemed plein air painter of the 19th and 20th centuries with my mother and sister. It was my sister’s generous treat and so I kept my opinions to myself when they weren’t positive. But as a sketch artist who sits in front of real life subjects a few times a week, and who has done so without a break for eleven years, I can see faults in a drawing very quickly. I don’t look for them: it’s just something that is extremely clear to me. I know the difference between a beautiful line, and one that is a little clumsy. I saw many lines in this exhibition that were off, to a greater or lesser extent, and not just in his later career, when it was more obvious. I found the use of paint to be quite muddy, and the brush strokes inelegantly made. I feel uncomfortable about saying this: don’t they say “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”? But what good is it to praise something if you find everything perfectly lovely? Doesn’t that render your words meaningless? So for me, the exhibition was a miss. But the company was marvellous, and the experience of being with my mother and sister was a privilege, as the latter is rarely in Ireland.
On the way home, Liv, Arthur and I shared cakes and relaxed. I love drawing those two, and when I suggested it on the train they were happy to oblige. What a pleasure to draw such beautiful faces. There are plenty of wrong lines in my sketch, but you only get one chance with watercolour…then again, most of the lines made by the painter I referred to – certainly those done from life – were not worked more than once, even though they were in oil. So perhaps I should be more forgiving.
It’s all very well to set myself up as an art critic, but I wonder if I will be taken seriously when I show you my other artistic passion, which is to convert animals into people who do things, like cooking. Here is the second in the series of classes I am offering my wonderful students on Tuesday evenings (evenings in Ireland, that is), on learning to do the same. The world is full of beautiful animals and I want to turn them all into cooks and do-ers of things, and this one is my dear little terrier Reuben, baking brown soda bread. You should make this if you love fresh brown bread.
This morning I learned that the granddaughter of one of my students has been inspired to draw her own recipes, with her own animal characters. I am thrilled about this: let it be the first of a lifetime passion for drawing recipes featuring the animal kingdoam. Animals, drawing, painting and good food, what’s not to love?
I must fly, as one of the final-week activities laid on by my kids is about to take place: we are off for coffee and viennoiserie in Galway City. Until next week…happy sketching!