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Exhibitions > Past Exhibitions

Patrick Hennessy: De Profundis

24 March - 24 July 2016

Patrick Hennessy, Kassim by the Sea, 1978, Oil on canvas, 62.2 x 87.6 cm, Private Collection, Image courtesy of Whytes © The Artist’s Estate

'A strange and exotic presence in Irish art’, ‘standing alone’, ‘very un-Irish’, Patrick Hennessy RHA (1915-80), was one of Ireland’s most successful post –war realist painters, but one whose work puzzled the critics writing in Dublin in the 60s and 70s. A prolific artist, he created traditional portraits, landscapes, equine studies and still-lifes, but he also created works unlike anything being made in Ireland at the time. Fusing realism with a Surrealist subjectivity learned in Paris he painted human figures isolated in the landscape, male nudes and portraits of handsome African men that puzzled Irish critics who branded him ‘something of an outsider’.

The label ‘Surrealist’ was generally used to explain-away some of his images that were not easily read. In reality many of his works were comprised of visual codes that signified clear narratives of homosexual life. While these codes were impenetrable to some; they were readily interpreted by those around his circle that included artists like Francis Bacon, the Two Roberts (Colquhoun & MacBryde), John Craxton and Lucian Freud; as well as the writers Elizabeth Bowen, Cyril Connolly, Brendan Behan and others.

At a time when gay men were subject to social and legal persecution for the simple fact of their sexual orientation, Hennessy and his lifelong partner Henry Robertson-Craig bravely chose to exhibit works that clearly marked them as homosexual. They have almost no peers in Irish art, but Hennessy’s late work demonstrates an engagement with the emerging international queer-art movement of the 1970s. This exhibition re-examines and repositions Hennessey’s work as part of the IMMA Modern Irish Masters series, a strand of programming that looks at the post-war period to shed light on artists who have been critically neglected; but also to reflect on what their work might mean to audiences today.

About the artist

Patrick Hennessy was born in County Cork in 1915 and moved with his family to Scotland in 1921. He was trained as painter in the academic tradition at Dundee College of Art, where he was greatly influenced by his tutor, the leading Scottish landscape artist James McIntosh Patrick. Hennessy excelled at Dundee and on graduating won a scholarship to travel to Europe. Between 1938-39 he went to Florence, Rome and Venice studying the work of the old masters. He then settled in Paris, the centre of Surrealism and avant-garde culture, where he worked for a time under Fernand Léger.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, he was part of the influx of artists and writers who returned to Ireland like Louis le Brocquy, Gerard Dillon, and the White Stag Group – led by Basil Rákóczi and Kenneth Hall. These outward-looking artists formed the backdrop against which Hennessy made his work at that time.

He showed annually at the Royal Hibernian Academy and the Dublin Painters Society until the mid-50s when he was instrumental in the founding of the Ritchie Hendriks Gallery which would go on to represent some of Ireland’s leading artists. In the late 50s he gained a level of international success having regular exhibitions in the UK and North America where he found a steady market for his work. In 1959, due to ill-health he spent the winter in Tangier, Morocco. This was a turning point in his life and career as he would spend less and less time in Ireland before finally settling in Tangier in the early 70s.

Read more about the artist on our comprehensive Modern Irish Masters website>

Associated Events

Modern Irish Masters Series| Patrick Hennessy De Profundis
Sun 10 April, 3 — 4pm / Johnston Suite / FREE

Seán Kissane (Curator, Exhibitions, IMMA) presents a keynote lecture offering a new perspective on the work of Irish artist Patrick Hennessy. This talk will give rich insights into Hennessy’s images which address themes such as war, religion, gender and sexuality. Listen back to this talk on Soundcloud.

Seminar | Sexuality, Identity & the State                                                      
Wed 22 June, 2pm, IMMA
Comprising of presentations by artists, writers, curators, educators and psychoanalysts, this seminar address issues of gender, sexuality, identity and the state as it relates to the work of artists, Patrick Hennessey, Carol Rama and others. Participants will draw on queer theory, feminism and psychoanalysis across a wide range of disciplines, considering wider research agendas that span the history of art, culture and society. Chaired by Dr. Noreen Giffney psychoanalytic psychotherapist, and writer on desire, gender and sexuality studies issues. Chaired by Dr Noreen Giffney (psychoanalytic psychotherapist, and writer on desire, gender and sexuality studies issues). Speakers include Sean Kissane (IMMA), Riann Coulter (F. E Mc William Gallery), Eibhear Walshe (Senior lecturer in the School of Modern English at University College Cork) and others.

This seminar is a continuation of the IMMA Modern Irish Masters Series,which aims to uncover different historical perspectives on an artist’s oeuvre. The aim of this seminar is to provide the public with a deeper insight into the thinking and making of artist’s work where its subject matter address themes of gender, sexuality, desire and identity, in dissent to the state. Audio will be available soon.
Listen back to the full days seminar on our Soundcloud channel presented in two parts  Part 1 and Part 2.

Putting Framing in the Picture
Sunday 17 July, 2.30pm / No booking required / Meet at main reception / FREE
Join Yvonne Woods from our Visitor Engagement Team for a fascinating tour of the stunning frames in our current exhibitions The Passion According to Carol Rama and Patrick Hennessy De Profundis. This tour will look at the values of framing and how it can change our view of the works it holds.

Curators Lunchtime Talks
Saturday 23 July, 1.15 - 2pm / Meeting Point, Main Reception / FREE

Join Seán Kissane, Exhibitions, IMMA, for an insightful walk through of the exhibition. No booking required.


A fully illustrated catalogue is available to accompany this landmark exhibition. Designed by Niall & Nigel at Pony with text by Seán Kissane and contributions from Robert O’Byrne, James Hanley and a biography by Kevin A. Rutledge.

Available at the IMMA Shop on the first floor of the main galleries..

Exhibition Resources

Read the exhibition guide

Read more about Hennessy's life and practice on the IMMA Modern Irish Masters website. www.modernirishmasters.com

Video introduction by Seán Kissane, IMMA Curator: Exhibitions, in which he talks about the origin of the exhibition name, the importance of Elizabeth Bowen in Hennessy's like and his connection to gay rights.

Read a blog by Seán Kissane 'Curator's Voice: Patrick Hennessy and the power of artworks to connect with personal experience'.

Read a blog from the Gallery Voices series by Olive Barrett, Visitor Engagement Team, who gives an insight into how visitors to the exhibition have responded to Hennessy's work.

Read "More than just good friends", a review of the exhibition by Cristín Leach in The Sunday Times

Read a review in the Irish Times by Aidan Dunne

Media Release

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