The collection of prints, drawings and other works on paper is extensive. It includes simple pencil sketches, preparatory studies for paintings, finished landscape watercolours, portraits in all media and architectural and topographical drawings. Highlights include Old Master drawings from the Italian, French, Dutch and Flemish schools. Well-known artists such as Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Francesco Primaticcio, François Boucher, Jean-Antoine Watteau, Willem van de Velde II and Jacob Jordaens feature.
The Gallery is especially rich in its holdings of watercolours and drawings by eighteenth and nineteenth century British artists and includes examples by John Robert Cozens, Thomas Gainsborough and Frederic Leighton. Outstanding are the 31 watercolours by J.M.W. Turner bequeathed by the English collector Henry Vaughan in 1900. These works, which span the whole of Turner’s career, are displayed, free of charge for the month of January every year, following the specific conditions of the bequest.
The earliest topographical drawings are a group of 19 Irish views in pen and ink executed in 1698-99 by the English artist Francis Place. The elegant streetscapes of Georgian Dublin are the subject of a series of keenly observed drawings executed by James Malton in preparation for his historic edition of prints Picturesque and Descriptive Views of the City of Dublin (1792-1799). A portfolio of over forty topographical views of the West of Ireland, sketched in 1838 by William Evans of Eton, not only describes the dramatic landscape but also the woeful living conditions of the impoverished population in the decade prior to the Great Famine.
The comprehensive collection of watercolours and drawings by Irish artists charts the development of these disciplines from the seventeenth century through to the middle decades of the twentieth century. It was the middle of the eighteenth century, following the establishment of the Dublin Society’s Drawing Schools, before young artists had access to formal training in the graphic arts. One of the most celebrated artists to emerge from the Dublin Society’s Schools was Hugh Douglas Hamilton whose pastel portraits were ranked alongside his peers in Europe, securing him an international clientele. In the late eighteenth century Irish artists achieved particular prominence in the world of print production, most notably in the realm of mezzotints. In this profitable sector the artist James McArdell featured significantly, translating painted masterpieces by Reynolds and other notable portraitists. The original prints of James Barry and Thomas Frye are significant achievements in the art of printmaking and deserve greater recognition.
The landscape watercolours of George Petrie combine a typical nineteenth century interest in Romanticism with his personal knowledge of history and archaeology as exemplified in The Last Circuit of Pilgrims at Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly (c.1838). His contemporary, Frederic William Burton was a consummate portraitist and story teller. His richly coloured compositions, including Hellilil and Hildebrand: The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, which are based on myth and legend, echo the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites.
Other Irish artists represented include: Daniel Maclise, Walter Osborne, William Orpen, Margaret Clarke, Evie Hone, Flora Mitchell and Paul Henry. Works on paper by Harry Clarke include eleven of his fantastical illustrations of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales published in 1916 by Harrap’s of London.
The collection includes two evocative watercolours by James Abbot McNeill Whistler still in their original gilded frames. Characteristic works by John Singer Sargent also feature alongside works by avant-garde European artists such as Cézanne, Picasso, Modigliani, Emil Nolde and Paul Klee. The Gallery’s collection of European and Irish portrait miniatures, many of which were donated by the Irish-American philanthropist Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, is of particular importance.
As works on paper are fragile and sensitive to light they are stored in the Prints and Drawings Study Room, where they can be viewed by appointment. Regular exhibitions of works on paper are shown in the Print Gallery. As the Print Gallery cannot be used for exhibitions during the ongoing renovations, changing displays of works on paper are shown in Room 1, Millennium Wing. The current display, Fables & Fairy Tales: Illustrations from the Collection is on show until March 25. Find out more.
View selected highlights from the Prints and Drawings Collection