Dictionary of Irish Artists: 20th Century by Theo Snoddy, Merlin Publishing ISBN 1 903582 17 2 £50 (€70) h/b
The 1996 publication of Theo Snoddy’s Dictionary of Irish Artists could not have been more timely. Irish painting has benefited hugely from the boom in the Irish economy over the past decade, turning what was once a wholly insular market into something much more international. And now just six years after its original publication, Snoddy has revised his text adding a further 100 names to the original 500 – the entries for which remain unchanged.
The first edition began in 1913, taking up where Walter Strickland’s Dictionary of Irish Artists left off, but this new text goes right back to the beginning of the 20th century to include artists such as Walter Osborne (d.1903) and Adwin Hayes (d.1904), who were omitted first time round. Other new entries include Tom Carr (1909-99), Patrick Collins (1910-94) and F.E. McWilliam (1909-92).
Each entry consists of often lengthy biographical information along with listings of institutions where the artist’s works can be found, along with relevant literature. Snoddy steers clear of any critical assessment and the book contains no illustrations.
Comprehensive and informative though his text may be,
it is of less use to the collector
of contemporary art because
of Snoddy’s decision to include no living artists. So big hitters like Basil Blackshaw (b.1932), Neil Shawcross (b.1940), or the abstract painter Tony O’Malley (1913-2003), who ironically would now qualify for inclusion following his death last month, are missing. But perhaps the most gaping hole is the omission of Louis le Brocquy (b.1916). Le Brocquy is widely regarded as one of Ireland’s most important painters of any period. In May 2000 his Travelling Woman with Newspaper made a record £1.05m at Sotheby’s, and in April of last year My Family was sold to Dublin businessman Lochlann Quinn for £1.7m in a private sale – making a record for any living Irish artist.
While Snoddy disregards living artists, he does include artists of dubious ‘Irishness’. Artists born outside Ireland but with Irish parents, such as William Scott (1913-89), are included, as is Hans Itens (1874-1930), who, though Swiss-born, chose to live and work in Belfast.
As the art critic of 25 years to the Belfast News Letter and now art advisor to Ulster Television, which owns one of the largest corporate art collections in Ireland, Snoddy is a man immersed in Irish painting and, although flawed, his text remains an indispensable and unique work of