William John Leech

William John Leech (1881 – 1968)

Dublin born, William John Leech studied at the Metropolitan School of Art and later at the RHA School under Walter Osborne and at the Academie Julian in Paris. He was inspired by the impressionists and fell in love with the French landscape. From 1903 until 1917 Leech lived mainly in Concarneau in Brittany, but visited Dublin regularly and continued to exhibit annually at the RHA, who elected him a full member in 1910. During his time in Brittany, he studied and absorbed the methods of impressionism and his paintings show signs of Van Gogh and Matisse. In Leech’s case, however, other more conservative influences were at work including those of William Orpen and Norman Garstin and his later English paintings are similar to works by contemporary British painters, such as Gerald Kelly and William Nicholson, His reputation was gaining status in Paris too, where he won a bronze medal at the 1914 Salon. In 1918 Leech served for a time in France, but this experience of World War I left him suffering from depression. He exhibited throughout the 1920s and 1930s at the RHA, RA and New English Club in London, and represented Ireland at a number of significant international locations including Venice in 1926 and Brussels in 1930

From 1944 on Leech was represented by the Dawson Gallery in Dublin, where solo shows were held in 1945. A major retrospective of his work was held at the National Gallery of Ireland in 1947 and toured to the Ulster Museum and the Musee des Beaux Arts, Quimper, accompanied by an extensive catalogue by Denise Ferran. Although he received a huge amount of recognition for his art throughout his life Leech often struggled financially. His paintings can be found in major Irish collections such as the National Gallery of Ireland, The Hugh Lane, The Office of Public Works, Ulster Museum and Crawford Gallery as well as numerous high profile private collections in Ireland, the UK and the US. Leech also shared much in common with fellow artist Roderick O’Connor. Both men studied in Paris and in the villages of Brittany, both painted interiors demonstrating an interest in indoor and reflected light as well as coastlines and landscape. Above all, both men shared a passion for colour.