Gerard  Dillon  


Gerard Dillon was born and raised in Belfast. After working in London as a painter and decorator, he began to paint pictures in 1930, a sphere in which he was largely self-taught. In 1939 he and a friend went on a cycling holiday in Connemara, an event which his biographer James White has since labelled "the most important development of his life" (Gerard Dillon: An Illustrated Biography, Wolfhound Press, Dublin, 1994). The imagery of the land, crisscrossed as it was by stone walls and dotted with cottages, and of the people in their brightly coloured home-spun clothes, remained with him for life and reappeared in many of his works. Caught in Ireland by the outbreak of the Second World War and, due to travel restrictions, unable to return to England, he decided to move to Dublin. There he held his first one-man exhibition in February 1942 in the Country Shop on St Stephen's Green which was opened by the champion of modern art in Ireland, Mainie Jellet. Immediately his talent was recognized with the Irish Times (24 February 1942) stating that he could “put the breath of life” into his pictures. Thereafter, mainly through the annual Irish Exhibition of Living Art, Dillon made a reputation for himself and shortly came to be regarded, along with a number of his Northern confreres - George Campbell, Nevill Johnson, Dan O’Neill - as one of the most interesting Irish painters of his generation, his subject matter increasingly drawn from the West, from the Aran Islands and Connemara in particular. His early return to London after the war, however, meant that the West of Ireland did not quite monopolise his work as it might otherwise have done. But besides Dublin and the West, Dillon spent a good deal of time during the war years in Belfast. Dillon was clearly moved the hardships of civilian life during the war. His career has commonly been characterised as a succession of different phases, from his early naïve landscapes, to his final dreamscapes, populated by harlequins. Dillon died of a stroke in 1971. A retrospective was held the following year at the Ulster Museum and later at the Hugh Lane Gallery of Art, Dublin.

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