McMullen Museum of Art Boston College


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Literary Lives: Portraits from the Crawford Art Gallery and Abbey Theatre, Ireland: September 4-December 5, 2010

Exclusive Exhibition Showcases Compelling Portraits of Irish Writers, Depicted by Irish Visual Artists

CHESTNUT HILL, MA (9-10) — The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College is the exclusive venue for Literary Lives: Portraits from the Crawford Art Gallery and Abbey Theatre, Ireland. Organized by the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, Ireland, and the McMullen in collaboration with BC’s Irish Studies faculty and Burns Library, it will be on display from September 4 through December 5, 2010.

Over the last several centuries, a number of Irish artists have produced compelling portraits of Irish writers in painting, sculpture and photography, according to exhibition organizers. Many of these portraits were either commissioned or purchased by various Irish national collections.

This exhibition comprises 49 of the finest examples from two of the most significant of these collections: the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork and Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Literary Lives combines visual portraiture with a wide range of rare books, manuscripts, letters, illustrations and objects selected from Boston College’s John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections to explore questions about the literary life, both personal and professional, and reveal how different materials offer windows onto various aspects of that life.

“The McMullen Museum and Irish Studies faculty at Boston College are proud to collaborate with the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork in presenting to the New England audience treasures from Irish National Collections and Boston College’s Burns Library that meld and explore visual and textual biographies of some of Ireland’s most celebrated literary figures,” says McMullen Museum Director and professor of Art History Nancy Netzer.

Serving as co-curators for the McMullen Museum exhibition are Crawford Art Gallery Director Peter Murray, Crawford Art Gallery Curator Anne Boddaert, Boston College Irish Studies faculty Marjorie Howes (English Department) and Robert Savage (History Department), and McMullen Collections and Exhibitions Manager/Designer Diana Larsen.

“The works of art in this exhibition celebrate literary achievements, but they also celebrate the talents of Irish visual artists. The painters, photographers, and sculptors who created these portraits give an insight both into the writer’s world and also into the way in which they were seen by those around them. The subject of each portrait is a distinct and unique talent and each portrait an example of an artist’s own individual approach,” says Murray.

[MEDIA NOTE: Jpg/Tiff images available upon request from the McMullen Museum: please call Mary Curran at 617.552.4676 or e-mail her at A slideshow of images, and more exhibition details are available at]

Public Opening Celebration: Sunday, September 5, 7-9 p.m.

On September 5, the public is invited to join BC community members at an opening celebration at the Museum from 7 to 9 p.m. Live Irish music will be featured during a coffee and dessert reception. The event is free of charge. For more information, please call 617.552.8587. A black-tie opening for invited guests also will be hosted by the McMullen Museum and its Patrons.

Literary Lives: Portraits from the Crawford Art Gallery and Abbey Theatre, Ireland

According to Murray, the exhibition presents “the compelling intersection of two distinct creative disciplines: the visual artist who makes the portrait and the writers, who have made their own mark on society, through novels, plays and poetry. Often the portraits are an expression of respect. Jonathan Swift is depicted by his friend Francis Bindon, while over two centuries later, the poet Micheal O’Siadhail is painted by his friend Michael O’Dea. Patrick Hennessy’s portrait of his friend Elizabeth Bowen is clearly a celebration of the writer’s home and heritage, while Norah McGuinness’s image of Frank O’Connor is an intimate portrayal of one of Cork’s greatest writers.”

Such details as clothing, accessories and backgrounds add information about the person depicted, he notes. “The materials of which the portrait is made are also important, as are some of the less tangible aspects, such as the time taken in creating the work of art. A swift snapshot by photographer John Minihan can be a telling portrait, while an oil painting by Edward McGuire, created slowly over many sittings, gives a different but equally compelling insight into both artist and sitter.”

Exhibition Sections and Works:

The exhibition—accompanied by a catalogue of the same title—is divided into the following theme sections:

Early Origins and Influences

The Irish Literary Revival: W.B. Yeats and His Circle

The Counter-Revival

The Lost Generation?

Contemporary Literary Lives

It comprises 35 works from the Crawford Art Gallery, 9 works from the Abbey Theatre, 3 works from the Arts Council of Ireland and 1 work each from the Model Arts and Niland Gallery and a private collection.

Included from BC’s Burns Library collection are 11 works of art, 7 artifacts and 90 letters, manuscripts and books, as well as a dozen photographs from the Bobbie Hanvey Collection. The latter is a massive photography archive—which is being digitized—that documents personalities and life in Northern Ireland during and after “The Troubles,” taken by prominent Northern Ireland photographer, writer and musician Bobbie Hanvey.

The exhibition—which Howes says “examines how different objects embody aspects of a ‘literary life’: painting, photography, literature, memoir, correspondence and artifacts”—includes an audio tour with selected readings of authors represented in the exhibition.

McMullen Museum Installation

Installation designed by Larsen. Labels written by Vera Kreilkamp; wall texts written by Howes and Savage. Copyediting by McMullen publications administrator Mary Curran. Text designed by McMullen graphic designer John McCoy. Works from the Burns Library Collection selected by the BC co-curators with assistance from Burns Reference Librarian Justine Sundaram.

Accompanying Programming (details/updated information at or e-mail For each of the following—time: 6:30–8:30 p.m.; location: Connolly House (300 Hammond St.); event sponsor: BC’s Center for Irish Programs; series: Gaelic Roots Music, Song, Dance, Workshop and Lecture Series at Boston College; admission: free, open to the public.

Thurs., Sept. 30: concert by flutist Jimmy Noonan and fiddler Oisin McAuley. McAuley, a member of the popular band Danu, is a mainstay in the local session scene. Noonan teaches in BC’s Irish Studies Program and plays at concerts and festivals with an impressive array of musicians including Seamus Connolly, director of Irish music programs at BC; Louise Costello; Tommy McCarthy; and Chris McGrath.

Thurs., Oct. 21: concert by Irish button accordionist and vocalist Brendan Begley and fiddler Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh. Widely respected as soloists, Begley and Ó Raghallaigh have garnered praise for their collaboration, which produces music equally mesmerizing and subtle as it is powerful.

Thurs., Nov. 18: lecture and concert by renowned Irish button accordionist James Keane. In addition to his superb musicianship, Keane is known as a shanachie and folk-historian who brings to life great Irish tradition-bearers. He has performed and recorded with some of the leading Irish musicians of the age.

Tues., Dec. 7: concert of Irish traditional music by fiddler Laurel Martin and banjo player, guitarist, flutist, and whistler Mark Roberts. A protégé of Seamus Connolly and a former member of the BC Irish Studies music faculty, Martin has recorded with the fiddle ensemble Childsplay. Roberts—who plays guitar, banjo, flute and whistle—has recorded and toured extensively for more than 25 years; his music was featured in the John Sayles film The Secret of Roan Inish.

Exhibition Sponsors/Support

Literary Lives: Portraits from the Crawford Art Gallery and Abbey Theatre, Ireland is underwritten by Culture Ireland, Boston College and the Patrons of the McMullen Museum.

Underwritten in part by
Culture Ireland

McMullen Museum of Art

The McMullen Museum is renowned for organizing interdisciplinary exhibitions that ask new questions in the display and scholarship of the works on view. It serves as a dynamic educational resource for all of New England as well as the national and international community. The Museum mounts exhibitions of international scholarly importance from all periods and cultures of the history of art. In keeping with the University's central teaching mission, the Museum's exhibitions are accompanied by scholarly catalogues and related public programs. The McMullen Museum of Art was named in 1996 by the late BC benefactor, trustee, and art collection John J. McMullen and his wife Jacqueline McMullen.

The Crawford Art Gallery

The Crawford Art Gallery, the city art museum for Cork, is dedicated to informing a wide audience about the significant role that the visual arts play in contemporary life and culture. Located in the heart of the city, the Gallery is a critical part of Cork’s cultural and tourism infrastructure, welcoming over 200,000 visitors a year. The Gallery’s permanent collection comprises over 2,000 works, ranging from eighteenth century Irish and European painting and sculpture, to contemporary video installations. At the heart of the collection is a selection of casts from Greek and Roman sculpture, brought to Cork in 1818 from the Vatican Museum in Rome. The Crawford’s collection is particularly strong in Irish art of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Through its temporary exhibitions, publications and education programs, the Crawford Gallery is committed to fostering recognition, critical assessment and acknowledgement of historical and contemporary art practice. The Gallery’s programming includes both Irish and international artists, reflecting the position of Ireland as a vital member of the EU and international community.

McMullen Museum Hours and Tours

Admission is free; handicapped accessible and open to the public. Located in Devlin Hall on BC's Chestnut Hill campus, 140 Commonwealth Avenue. Hours during this exhibition: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Extended hours: September 24, 25, 26, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Museum will be closed on: September 6; October 11; November 25 and 26. Free group tours: Sundays at 2 p.m. from September 19 through December 5. Tours also may be arranged upon request by calling 617.552.8587. On-campus parking will be unavailable on the following Saturdays: September 4, 11, 25; October 2, 23, 30; November 20. For directions, parking and information on public programs, visit or call 617.552.8100