Sean Keating

Sean Keating (1889-1977)

Sean Keating was born in Limerick and studied drawing at the Limerick Technical School before a scholarship arranged by William Orpen allowed him to go at the age of twenty to study at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin. In 1914 Keating won the RDS Taylor award with a painting titled The Reconciliation. The prize included £50 which allowed him to go to London to work as Orpen’s studio assistant in 1915. He was probably Orpen’s most important pupil and his academic painting style owes a great debt to his teacher. He worked as an assistant to Orpen in England, and tried to convince Orpen to return to Ireland to lead the revival in visual art.
Keating himself returned to Ireland; he felt that his mission was to help to define Irish nationhood through his painting. He was a realist painter, and although abstract art thrived at the time he lived and taught in Ireland, he
remained a staunchly traditional painter.
He travelled to the Aran Islands in 1914 with his friend and fellow student Harry Clarke. This trip had a profound effect on him. He believed that the hardworking rugged men and women of the West were the true
heroes of Ireland. Keating portrayed scenes from the Aran Islands many times; he returned there again and again, with Charles Lamb, Harry Clarke, Paul and Grace Henry, all of whom had a great attachment to this
corner of the world. Paul Henry was completely enamoured with the landscape of the West. His student Maurice MacGonigal similarly was to paint the unique landscape of the West of Ireland all his life. Keating was also very inspired by the people who inhabited this land.

The cult of the proud Irish peasant was popular in the writings of W.B. Yeats and others, and was represented by Keating in many of his paintings. Keating was an idealist with a strong, social conscience; themes of immigration and the loss of the values of the past, as represented by the islanders, were explored in his paintings.

Nationalism was to become the driving force behind Keating’s work.
In 1918, Keating was appointed teacher at the Metropolitan School of Art, Dublin. He later became Professor of Painting and was elected a member of the R.H.A. in 1923. Examples of his work include Men of the South (1921–22) which shows a group of IRA men ready to ambush a military vehicle and An Allegory (first exhibited in 1924), in which the two opposing sides in the Irish Civil War are seen to bury the tricolor covered coffin amid the roots on an ancient tree. Much of his work was to document the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War which followed. These paintings were populated with proud and defiant men and women. A heroic and sometimes idealized view of
Ireland was evident in his work.
In 1924, Keating received the gold medal at the Dublin Exhibition of Irish Art for his painting Homage to Hugh Lane.
In 1934, he was appointed Professor of the National College of Art in Dublin and held the position of President of the Royal Hibernian Academy from
1948 until 1962. Always proud of his political and cultural heritage, one of his last exhibits was a series of six portraits of patriots for the 1966 Golden Jubilee of the Easter Rising.