The Paintings of Patrick Anthony Hennessy
Born in August of 1915 in Cork, Patrick Anthony Hennessy was an Irish realist painter known for his landscapes, still lifes, portraits, and trompe l’oeil paintings. Often considered an outsider of latter day Irish painting, he developed a distinctive personal style of carefully observed realism executed with highly finished surfaces that he faithfully followed throughout his career.
After his father’s battle death in 1917 during World War I, Hennessy’s mother remarried to John Duncan from Scotland in 1921; the family relocated to Arbroath, a royal burgh on the coast of Scotland where Duncan’s relatives resided. During his primary education at the Arbroath High School, Hennessy showed an aptitude for art and graduated in 1933 with the honor, Dux for Art, and an accompanying medal. In the autumn of that year, he entered the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design at the University of Dundee where he studied drawing and painting under portrait painter Edward Baird and noted landscape painter James McIntosh Patrick.
Patrick Hennessy, in addition to his art studies, wrote a ballet entitled “Paradise Lost” which was performed at the college in 1935. In each year of his course, he gained a First Class Pass, as well as winning first prize in 1934 and 1936 for the work he produced during summer breaks. Hennessy graduated with a First Class Distinction in 1937 and, with a scholarship, earned his Post-Graduate Diploma in 1938. During his studies, Hennessy met his life-long partner, British-Irish landscape and portrait painter Harry Robertson Craig who was also attending courses at Dundee. Aside from the period between 1939 and 1946 when they were separated by the war, they spent the rest of their lives together.
A month after finishing his post-graduate work, Hennessy entered his paintings in a group exhibition at the Art Galleries in Arbroath. Awarded an Annual Traveling Scholarship for further studies in Italy and France, he traveled to Europe in June of 1938. In Paris, Hennessy reunited with two friends, Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde. whom he had met the previous year. Known as the two Roberts, these painters and theater set-designers had established both a lifelong romantic relationship and a professional collaboration in their art. Hennessy and the couple traveled together through the south of France until their arrival in Marseilles at the end of 1938.
Upon his return to Scotland, Patrick Hennessy was selected for the residential summer course at the historical arts center, Hospitalfield House, under painter James Cowie, an artist of detailed draftsmanship based on studies of the Old Masters. Two of Hennessy’s paintings from this period were accepted for the Annual Exhibition held by the Royal Scottish Academy. With war looming in the autumn of 1939 and feeling disenchanted by his time at Hospitalfield House, he made the decision to return to his native Ireland. On his arrival in Dublin, Hennessy was offered an exhibition in December of 1939 at abstract artist Mainie Jellett’s Country Shop gallery on St. Stephens Green in the city center.
After his well received exhibition, Hennessy was invited to join the Society of Dublin Painters with whom he would exhibit annually during the 1940s and early 1950s. Beginning in the early 1940s, a visual homosexual subtext began to be incorporated into some of Hennessy’s paintings. In addition to the work he produced for exhibition in this period, he also received many portrait commissions from clients. Hennessy began a long relationship with the Royal Hibernia Academy in 1941 with the acceptance of three of his paintings for their annual exhibition; he exhibited with the academy virtually every year from 1941 until his death.
In 1946, Patrick Hennessy reunited with Harry Robertson Craig who had recently been discharged from the intelligence branch of the British Army where he served during the Second World War. Prior to his service, Craig had extensively traveled throughout Europe where he painted landscapes and portraits. Hennessy and Craig soon moved to Crosshaven in Cork and later to the seaport town of Cobh on the southern coast of County Cork. In 1948, Hennessy had an exhibition at Dublin’s Victor Waddington Gallery, which had emerged as Ireland’s most important modern art venue. After a year as an associate, he became a full member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1949.
Hennessy’s work became noticed in North America when his published work “De Profundis” was included in the Contemporary Irish Painting Exhibition that toured various cities on the continent. The 1950s brought Hennessy a retrospective of his work from 1941 to 1951 at the Dublin Painters Society and several painting excursions to Italy and Sicily. One of his works at this time, “Bronze Horses of St. Marks”, was exhibited at London’s Royal Academy in 1954. In 1956, Hennessy had two major solo exhibitions of his work: London’s Thomas Agnew Gallery which showed thirty-eight paintings and Dublin’s Ritchie Hendriks Gallery which would be the main outlet for his work over twenty-two years.
In the winter of 1959, Patrick Hennessy became seriously ill with pneumonia. As a consequence, he and Harry Craig decided to spend the winter season in Morocco. After 1959, they never spent a full year in Ireland and increasingly spent time abroad. In the 1960s, Hennessy continued to be true to his personal style; however, as he did not follow the current trends in art, he began to receive less favorable reviews from the art critics. Finally in 1965, Chicago’s Guildhall Gallery, which had accepted his work for years, offered Hennessy a major exhibition in 1966. The success of which enabled him to become an artist with work on permanent display at the gallery and a scheduled annual exhibition.
In 1968, Hennessy made a permanent move to Tangier, Morocco where he painted prolifically for nine years to keep up with the demand from both the Hendriks and Guildhall Galleries as well as the Royal Hibernian Academy. A highly successful retrospective of Hennessy’s work was held in 1975 at the Guildhall Gallery. Three years later, he had his last show in Dublin at the Hendriks Gallery. After his move with Harry Craig to the Algarve in Portugal, Hennessy had little contact with Ireland and began to have health problems that soon grew more serious. In November of 1980, Craig brought him to a London hospital for treatment. Diagnosed with cancer, Patrick Hennessy died on the thirtieth of December in 1980.
Following cremation, Patrick Anthony Hennessy’s ashes were buried in London’s Golders Green Crematorium. He had left his entire estate to Harry Robertson Craig, with the proviso that on Craig’s death the Royal Hibernian Academy should be the beneficiary. Upon Craig’s death in 1984, this legacy was used to set up the biennial Hennessy Craig Scholarship for aspiring artists. Hennessy’s work, in addition to many private collections, can be found in major public collections including the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Ireland, the University Colleges of both Cork and Dublin, and the Crawford Art Gallery, among others.
Note: The Irish Museum of Modern Art has an excellent article on Patrick Hennessy’s connections which such figures as Francis Bacon, Elizabeth Bowen, Roger Casement and other artists. This Modern Irish Masters article can be found at: http://www.modernirishmasters.com/context/patrick-hennessy-context/#stags
Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Patrick Hennessy and Harry Robertson Craig”, Date Unknown, Gelatin Silver Print
Second Insert Image: Patrick Hennessy, “Boy and Seagull”, 1949, Oil on Canvas, 52 x 38 cm, Irish Museum of Modern Art
Third Insert Image: Patrick Hennessy, “Cliffs of Etretat (Self Portrait)”, 1962, Oil on Canvas, Private Collection
Fourth Insert Image: Patrick Hennessy, “Portrait of Elizabeth Bowen at Bowenscourt”, 1957, Oil on Canvas, 91 x 71 cm, Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, Ireland
Bottom Insert Image: Patrick Hennessy, “Men Bathing, Etretat”, circa 1954, Oil on Canvas, Date and Location Unknown