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Days In The Lives

McMullen exhibition shows artists' interest in 19th, 20th century rural Ireland

“Rural Ireland: The Inside Story,” which will run through June 3, is an exclusive exhibition that introduces American viewers to many recently discovered genre paintings of 19th-century rural interiors.

By Rosanne Pellegrini | Chronicle Staff

Published: Feb. 2, 2012

The lives of 19th-century Irish country people — how they worshipped, mourned, conducted business, arranged their homes, and educated and entertained themselves — will be the subject of a new McMullen Museum of Art exhibition opening Feb. 11.
“Rural Ireland: The Inside Story,” which will run through June 3, is an exclusive exhibition that introduces American viewers to many recently discovered genre paintings of 19th-century rural interiors. It also offers new visual evidence about the varied lives of a politically marginalized population.
Inspired by recent scholarship, “Rural Ireland” reveals that artists working in 19th and early 20th-century Ireland frequently turned to the lives of the country’s rural poor for subject matter — thus challenging assumptions that artists working in Ireland painted only the “big houses” and landscapes of an Anglo-Irish elite society.
Although the works on display reveal poverty and deprivation during the Famine era, they convey aesthetic pleasures, spiritual satisfactions, and tenants’ negotiations with a growing consumer economy.
The museum will hold a free opening celebration for the Boston College community and general public on Feb. 13 from 7-9 p.m.
The exhibition comprises outstanding works of art from such lenders as the National Gallery of Ireland, the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, the National Library of Ireland, the Ulster Museum, the National Gallery of Scotland, as well as from a range of smaller public and private collections in Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“The McMullen Museum is pleased to present this examination of paintings, many recently discovered, and of newly-collected artifacts from Irish rural life,” said McMullen Museum Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer. “The exhibition tells the ‘inside story’ of Ireland’s country people through its selection of outstanding genre interiors, most never displayed in North America.”
Organized by the McMullen Museum in collaboration with BC’s Irish Studies Program faculty and the John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College, “Rural Ireland: The Inside Story” is co-curated by Irish Studies faculty member Vera Kreilkamp and McMullen Exhibition Designer Diana Larsen, in consultation with English Professor Marjorie Howes and Adjunct Associate Professor Joseph Nugent — both Irish Studies faculty members — and Irish art historian Claudia Kinmonth.
“We hope to convey the Irish tenant’s aesthetic sensibility, a delight in display and color, as well as in the creation of ingenious household objects from limited resources such as driftwood, turf, or straw,” says Kreilkamp, editor of an accompanying exhibition catalogue that includes essays contributed by 14 international and local scholars, several BC faculty members among them.  
“’Rural Ireland’ offers powerful visual evidence that contests dark and even racist accounts by visitors and British government officials about ‘uncivilized’ Irish country people living in hovels.”
“Rural Ireland” also displays many examples of the household objects visible in the paintings — furniture, cooking utensils, baskets, and ceramics — as well as archaeological shards excavated from Famine cabins and works from the Burns Library.  
In addition to the Feb. 13 public event, the McMullen Museum will host lectures by University College Dublin Professor Angela Bourke (March 12) and Irish art historian Claudia Kinmonth (March 21). See for more information.
The exhibition has been underwritten by Boston College, the Patrons of the McMullen Museum, and Culture Ireland, with additional support from Eileen and Brian Burns.
For directions, parking and information on public programs and tours, see or call ext.2-8100.