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Contact: Nancy Netzer, Director
(617) 552-8587 (media contact)
Arts Line: (617) 552-8100 (public contact)

Land as an icon of the Irish Nation pervades Irish visual culture from the Middle Ages to the present


CHESTNUT HILL, MA (12-16-02) - The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College hosts an exclusive exhibition, Éire/Land, presenting various modes of depicting the Irish landscape as an icon of national identity from medieval manuscripts to contemporary works in various media. The exhibition on display from February 2 to May 19, 2003 comprises about 100 outstanding works of art from the medieval to the contemporary period. They include illuminated manuscripts, archaeological artifacts, early illuminated maps and examples of the nation's finest landscape paintings, which represent the best works of their kinds from Ireland's major galleries (National Gallery of Ireland, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery in Dublin, Crawford Art Gallery in Cork), the British Library, and the most significant private collections of Irish art.

According to exhibition organizers, from its earliest history, Ireland has been contested land, claimed by waves of invaders each attempting to possess and inscribe its identity on the island territory. Cultural artifacts that reveal this turbulent past are, they note, central to any historical exploration of Ireland.

Éire/Land will be the first major exhibition of works of art to examine this theme over the past seven centuries.

"Through this exhibition, the McMullen Museum builds on its success as a leading proponent of Irish art, which until recently was largely excluded from the canon of art historical scholarship in North America," said McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer.

The works selected exemplify various ways in which the idea of land, a symbol of Irish identity, has pervaded Irish visual culture. They include the North American debut of the first illustrated (early 13th c.) manuscript of Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis), Topography of Ireland (Topographia Hibernica) from the British Library, in addition to some of the finest works including paintings and several sketchbooks from a private collection by Jack Butler Yeats, Ireland's most celebrated painter.

The exhibition also features paintings by Thomas Roberts, George Barret, James Arthur O'Connor, Nathaniel Hone, Paul Henry, and Seán Keating, and works in a variety of media by well-known contemporary artists including many associated with the Ballinglen Artists Fellowship in county Mayo.

[MEDIA NOTE: Color images from the exhibition are available upon request from the McMullen Museum: (617) 552-8587. A complete list of works also is available.]

This interdisciplinary project addresses Irish visual culture in its fullest cultural and political settings, and draws on original research by the distinguished faculty members in Boston College's renowned Irish Studies Program, considered the most comprehensive in North America, as well as other prominent international scholars. Accompanying catalogue essays and developed wall texts relate objects to new scholarship in a variety of disciplines. As a result, visitors will respond to visual representations of Ireland's land in a historically informed context. Principal curator Alston Conley selected the works with BC co-curators Pamela Berger, Lisabeth Buchelt, Vera Kreilkamp, Katherine Nahum, and Nancy Netzer.

Opening Events

To commemorate the opening of the exhibition, a black-tie event for invited guests including McMullen Museum patrons and special guests will be held on Saturday, February 1, 2003. The event will be hosted by Boston College President William P. Leahy, S.J., BC Board of Trustees Chair John M. Connors, Jr., (chairman and CEO of Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Inc.), and McMullen Museum Director Nancy Netzer. The evening will include a lecture by Dr. Síghle Bhreathnach-Lynch, curator of Irish Art at the National Gallery of Ireland. His Excellency Noel Fahey, Ambassador of Ireland to the United States, will officially open the exhibition.

On Sunday, February 2, an opening event will be held from noon to 5 p.m. for Friends of the McMullen Museum, Boston College students, faculty, staff, alumni and their families, and Newton residents. Bhreathnach-Lynch will lecture at 2 p.m.


The exhibition is divided into four sections: Mapping, Digging, Possessing, and Responding Today.

Mapping: In the footsteps of Giraldus Cambrensis

The mapping of Ireland permitted both outsiders and Irish colonists to define and control the island's territory. From medieval topographical treatises to the nineteenth-century Ordnance Survey, which imposed English place names on a bilingual country, as the exhibition demonstrates, maps of Ireland have had profound social and political effects. This section of the exhibition explores changing images of Ireland's topography, beginning with the earliest illustrated manuscript of Gerald of Wales' Topographia Hibernica (c. 1210) from the British Library, shown in its North American debut. This section also examines several of the finest decorated maps and manuscripts from the British Library and Boston College's Irish Collection in the University's Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections.

Digging: Archeology and the Situating of Ireland's Past

This section shows how nineteenth-century scholars, archeologists, and cultural nationalists excavated the land for ancient objects to support their claim that Ireland was among the great ancient and medieval civilizations of Europe. The section presents medieval brooches, as well as nineteenth-century electrotype replicas of the major excavated early medieval icons of the Irish nation, the Ardagh Chalice and the Tara Brooch. It demonstrates how such excavated artifacts, widely disseminated through replicas, supplied cultural nationalists with evidence that Ireland no less than Greece was a cradle of western civilization. It also explores how George Petrie's paintings of the mid-ninetheenth century recording medieval sites contributed to this creation of an Irish historical identity, and demonstrated a continuity of Ireland's culture over the centuries.

Possessing: Irish Landscapes 1750-1950

This section presents major examples of Irish landscape painting from Irish national museums and American private collectors. Visitors will learn how eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Irish artists expressed a growing cultural nationalism and sense of the distinctness of the Irish landscape. The section begins with important eighteenth-century works by Thomas Roberts, George Barret, and Jonathan Fisher. Two early nineteenth-century paintings by James Arthur O'Connor demonstrate how representations of the Irish landscape reflected the political realities of colonization, as Irish estate lands were increasingly shaped and organized by the English and Continental park ideals. Later paintings by William McEvoy, Nathaniel Hone, and George William Russell [A. E.] are examined to illustrate how nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Irish painters, following English, American, and European precedents, romanticized the landscape and created an Irish sublime.

The exhibition then presents a selection of the finest paintings by Ireland's most celebrated painter, Jack Butler Yeats. In addition, virtually unknown examples of Yeats's sketchbooks offer visitors an intimate experience of the artist's responses to the Irish landscape. A computer station provides visitors with images of additional pages from the sketchbooks. Yeats's work is displayed alongside paintings by Paul Henry to illustrate how, in a period of cultural revival, late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century artists iconicized the landscape of the remote, rural western areas of the island.

The final paintings in the section have been chosen to reflect post-independence Ireland's changing vision of the land. Seán Keating's iconic paintings reveal a new nation's reappropriation and modernization of its landscape. A 1945 naïve work by Gerard Dillon demonstrates how the past centuries of Irish visual imagery shaped later artists' experience of the landscape.

Responding Today: Contemporary Interpretations of the West

The concluding section explores how contemporary artists register both change and continuity in their visual responses to the Irish landscape. This section presents works by both Irish and American artists, including a group of artists associated with the Ballinglen Artists Fellowship in county Mayo. The installation leads viewers from the edge of the sea towards fields dotted with farmhouses, small villages, and the remains of deserted cottages, abandoned big houses, medieval abbeys and Neolithic standing stones. Realist depictions by Eric Aho, Peter Brooke, Jane Goldman, and Susan Shatter are juxtaposed with expressionist images by Gwen O'Dowd, Anne Neely, Donald Teskey, and David Brewster and abstract images by Jane Proctor. Paintings focused on the formalist language are compared to works employing postmodern content, including Dorothy Cross's video Endarken and Kathy Herbert's installation pieces.

The connection between land and memory is further explored through a model and proposal drawings of architect Brian Tolle's Irish Hunger Memorial for Battery Park City in New York, for which turf and a model of an actual famine cottage were shipped from Ireland. This concluding section demonstrates that the search for meaning in the Irish landscape continues to inspire both traditional and strikingly innovative works of art.

The exhibition is organized by Boston College's McMullen Museum of Art, Center for Irish Programs, Irish Studies. The project has been underwritten by Boston College with an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities, with additional support from sponsors: patrons of the McMullen Museum, and benefactors: Cynthia Livingston and the Cultural Relations Committee of Ireland. Transport provided by Aer Lingus.

Exhibition Catalogue

The accompanying 250-page exhibition catalogue is a major scholarly contribution to the study of Irish visual art and to the interdisciplinary field of Irish Studies. Published by the McMullen Museum and distributed by the Boston College Bookstore and the University of Chicago Press, it features 16 original essays and color illustrations of most of the works, with remaining works shown in black and white. The catalogue is edited by Professor Vera Kreilkamp, editor of the journal Éire-Ireland and a faculty member in BC's Irish Studies Program, and contributors include American, English, and Irish scholars from a range of academic disciplines including more than a dozen Boston College faculty members. The catalogue and exhibition are dedicated to the late Boston College Professor Adele Dalsimer, co-founder and former co-director of the University's Irish Studies Program.

[For more details on the catalogue and contributors, please call the McMullen Museum at (617) 552-8587.]

McMullen Museum Tours and Programs

The McMullen Museum is renowned for organizing interdisciplinary exhibitions that ask new questions and break new ground in the display and scholarship of the works on view. Organizers estimate that some 75,000 to 100,000 visitors will take part in this exhibition and the accompanying public programs, which will include concerts, films and a lecture series. [See next page for list of programs.] Gallery tours of the exhibition will be given on Fridays at 12:30 p.m. Group tours may be arranged upon request, by calling (617) 552-8587.

McMullen Museum representatives and faculty members in BC's Lynch School of Education will work with local teachers to prepare curricula for class visits to the exhibition, and the museum docents will offer free guided tours to schools, senior citizens' groups, and arts clubs in greater Boston. Programs also will be planned for Irish-American cultural organizations.

McMullen Museum Hours

Admission to the McMullen Museum is free; it is handicapped accessible and open to the public. The Museum is located in Devlin Hall on the Chestnut Hill campus of Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Avenue. During this exhibition, McMullen Museum hours are as follows: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The McMullen Museum is closed on public holidays, Easter, and Good Friday. For directions, parking and additional information, call the Arts Line at (617) 552-8100, or visit the web site at

Éire/Land Public Programs

For more information about accompanying programs which are open to the public, free of charge see /artmuseum, or call 617-552-8100. Gallery tours of the exhibition will be given on Fridays at 12:30 p.m. Free group tours will be arranged by request; please call (617) 552-8587.


January 22, Burns Library, 4 p.m.
"An Ancient Light: Megalithic, Celtic, and Early Christian Monuments of Ireland"
Pamela Berger, BC Professor of Fine Arts; photos by Stephen Vedder, BC Media Technology Services

February 5, Devlin Hall, 4:30 p.m.
"Making and Remaking the Irish Landscape in the Early Middle Ages: Ireland in its European Context," Robin Fleming, BC Professor of History

February 24, Devlin Hall, 6:30 p.m.
"Landscapes of Loss: John Ford, The Quiet Man and Irish America," Luke Gibbons, Professor of English, University of Notre Dame

March 19, Devlin Hall, 4:30 p.m.
"The Land for the People: Post-Famine Images of Eviction," L. Perry Curtis, Professor Emeritus, Brown University

April 2, Devlin Hall, 4:30 p.m.
"Aborigines of Connaught," Katherine O'Donnell, University College, Dublin

April 16, Devlin Hall, 5 p.m.
"Land and Sovereignty in Ireland," BC Professor Richard Kearney, Charles Seelig Chair in Philosophy

April 23, Devlin Hall, 5 p.m.
"Remembrance and Imagination: Historical and Literary Representations of Ireland," Joep Leerssen, Chair of Modern European Literature, University of Amsterdam


March 16, Gasson Hall, 2 p.m.
Songs of the Nation, Mick Maloney, Professor, Villanova University

March 21, Gasson Hall, 7 p.m.
Between Worlds? Mícheal Ó Súilleabháin, Director, Irish World Music Center, University of Limerick

April 6, Gasson Hall, 2 p.m.
Gaelic Roots, BC Irish Studies Music Programs Director Séamus Connolly and Friends


February 10, Gasson Hall, 6:30 p.m.
Máirtín Ó Direáin, a film about the Aran Island poet introduced by BC Associate Professor Philip O'Leary, Irish Studies Program

April 7, Devlin Hall, 6:30 p.m.
The Last Story Teller, Filmmaker Desmond Bell introduces his award-winning documentary

April 14, Devlin Hall, 6:30 p.m.
Adrift, Filmmaker and BC alumnus Tom Curran introduces his award-winning documentary

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