Patrick Hennessy

Francis Bacon – School of London
Elizabeth Bowen – Literary Connections
Roger Casement
The White Stags and Gerard Dillon


Francis Bacon – School of London

Geraldine Cruess Callaghan and her husband were supporters of Hennessy’s work. In the late 1950s after David Hendriks had opened his gallery they bought Still-Life in the Attic (c.1952).

Still Life in the Attic, 1952 private collection

Still Life in the Attic, 1952
private collection

According to their daughter, they had narrowed their choice down to a work by Jack B. Yeats or Hennessy, but Geraldine decided on the work by the artist she had spent time with. Still-Life in the Attic was not shown in one of Hennessy’s solo exhibitions at the Hendriks Gallery, but it formed part of the studio inventory held in the gallery. As such it is difficult to date but the style and weave of canvas suggest it was done in the late 1940s. The lack of a date is frustrating because on the reverse of the picture is an unfinished portrait of Francis Bacon (1909-1992).

Francis Bacon verso of Still Life in the Attic

Francis Bacon verso of Still Life in the Attic

At some point in the late 40s during one of his visits to London, Hennessy attempted this portrait. Bacon is shown with his elbow resting on a chimney piece, his chin raised as he looks imperiously down at the viewer. He must not have had much patience to sit as Hennessy only had the chance to jot down a loose sketch and he did not attempt to finish it when he returned to the studio. This unfinished picture demonstrates that Hennessy and Bacon were acquainted with one another.

The most likely connection would have been through the Two Roberts (Colquhoun & MacBryde) who Hennessy knew since their college days in Scotland and who now frequented the same drinking clubs as Bacon in Soho. The importance of this canvas is that it establishes a direct link to a network of cultured people that included Bacon, Lucian Freud, John Craxton, Peter Watson, Edward James, Salvador Dalí, Cyril Connolly and so on. Many of these men were homosexual and so offered a social outlet for Hennessy and Robertson Craig.

Hennessy would have seen the styles and subjects of their work and so was certainly aware of the ‘School of London’ who were working in a figurative style at a time when abstraction dominated discourse. They in turn would have known his work. This natural symbiosis between artists offered Hennessy a potential audience for his work outside of Ireland. The queer codes that were found in his paintings from the early 40s onwards, would have been easily read by all of the men listed above.

Robert MacBryde Two women sewing, 1948 Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Robert MacBryde
Two women sewing, 1948
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Hennessy and Robertson Craig enjoyed their visits to London and they were important outlets for them both socially and culturally. From 1946 through to 1949, Robertson Craig records a number of visits to London and his reaction to them. At the end of the war, Ireland was much cheaper to live in and food shortages were less common. He notes the price of tobacco in both countries: Ireland at 1/11d and England 4/3d per ounce, a substantial difference. After spending a week there at the end of 1948 he says he would consider living in London but that ‘Ireland is so much better to live in’. In early 1949 life in Ireland is getting on top of him, he says:

We are cut off from London at the edge of civilisation… despite what I say I would live in London … it is no reflection on Pat’s kindness at all.’ Later that year he has changed his mind again, ‘We got back here yesterday. Ireland is so pleasant after England. None of the frantic nervous exhaustion that is the first thing that one notices. The squalor, the meagre food, although we ate well in restaurants – to live on the rations is another matter. Perhaps we could do worse than stay here. It depends so much on the market for pictures. Scotland is just horrible. Cold, fog, darkness; and such poverty of spirit that can scarcely have existed before in the history of the ages. How people stand it I know not. It is not a country to live in, but to escape from.’
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Elizabeth Bowen – Literary Connections

While the unfinished portrait of Francis Bacon establishes a link to the ‘School of London’ painters there was another significant figure closer to home in County Cork. The Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) became an important figure in Hennessy’s life. They met at some point in the early 1940s when they were both living between Cork and Dublin. Bowen lived at Bowen’s Court, a Georgian mansion near Kildorrery in Cork, as well as homes in Dublin and in London. Hennessy painted Bowen at least twice. The well-known Portrait of Elizabeth Bowen now held in the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork is dated 1957.

Portrait of Elizabeth Bowen at Bowenscourt, 1957 Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

Portrait of Elizabeth Bowen at Bowenscourt, 1957
Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

However it had already been exhibited in 1955 in Dublin and in 1956 in London. Bowen must not have liked the work and asked for it to be changed. In a letter to her lover Charles Ritchie she wrote, ‘On Tuesday Patrick Hennessy spent the day here and did some further alterations to that portrait of me …’ (Saturday 4 May 1957)
The painting of Bowen is unusual in a number of ways. The pale blue colour of her dress, its pleated detail, and the ornate jewels were not at all her normal style but appear like a deliberate anachronism. She was very attentive to her dress with a more tailored line and bold colours being her preferred mode, suiting her height and strong jaw-line. She is shown standing on the landing of the staircase of Bowen’s Court, the sunlight shining through a Palladian window.

The portrait of Bowen is not one of Hennessy’s most successful paintings. Both sitter and artist seem to be constrained by some unseen force. The sitter is stiff and Hennessy does not display any of his usual virtuosity. Neither does he resort to the tromp l’oeil effects seen in some of his portraits from the 40s. Hennessy shows her large, masculine hands and emphasised her physical frame. Perhaps he wished to convey the strength needed to hold onto a declining family estate of this size. It is possible that it was an awareness of Bowen’s legacy that overshadowed the making of this work. They were both aware that fashions quickly change and soon look ridiculous, so they aimed to create an image that would be timeless, but in doing so lost the freshness that characterises Hennessy’s more successful portraits. Bowen intended the picture to grace the walls of her house for decades if not centuries as those portraits of her ancestors had done before her. Sadly it was not to be. Bowen was forced to sell the house and land to a local farmer. She hoped that the house would be preserved but it was demolished in 1961.

The portrait was then acquired by Hennessy’s great patron Lady Ursula Vernon and her husband Major Stephen Vernon. Bowen and Hennessy were both close to the Vernons, and they were often guests at Bowen’s Court or the Vernon’s home at Bruree. In August 1964 Bowen wrote to Ritchie that while Lady Ursula was away, ‘the two famous Dublin painters Patrick Hennessy and H. Robertson Craig came to Bruree to entertain Stephen… I wrote … they painted … we all played cards in the evening’. As with the portrait of Francis Bacon, Hennessy’s association with Bowen opened up a wealth of literary and cultural connections. Bowen was intimate with to some of the major figures in English literature in the early twentieth century many of whom came to Ireland and visited Bowen’s Court. Among these were Cyril Connolly of whom she was especially fond. Connolly wrote about a visit he paid to Bowen’s court in April 1934 when Virginia Woolf came to stay.

‘Ireland quite derelict, empty and down at heel. Elizabeth’s house lovely but forlorn. The country so cold, as usual. Owing to rural torpor increased by the relaxing climate all literary effort is here impossible so will only summarise briefly. Next day (Sat) go to have tea at Anne’s grave [Grove? Ed]. Woolfs arrive. He small spare intellectual Jew, she lovely, shy and virginial. They seem shocked by Jean’s dress* (Virginia asked Elizabeth what unnatural vice was) and talked only of plans and motoring… We agreed that we could not like people if we didn’t like their books. They left next morning.’

The artistic and literary circles in London were deeply intertwined. Connolly was editor of the influential literary review Horizon from 1940-49. Horizon was funded by Peter Watson who was the patron of Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, John Craxton and the Two Roberts. Some of the early editions of Horizon included contributions from W.H Auden, Christopher Isherwood, T.S. Eliot, Brian Howard, Louis MacNeice and Dylan Thomas. There was an all-Irish edition in 1941. Mixing in these circles gave Hennessy access to some of the most avant-garde conversations of his day. They were also groups within which he could be open about his sexuality and his relationship with Robertson Craig, something which must been an outlet and relief in conservative Ireland.

Bowen had copies of banned books by authors who addressed homosexual themes in their work like Isherwood. Bowen had many gay friends in her circle aside from Hennessy and Robertson-Craig that included, Raymond Mortimer, Eddy Sackville-West and L.P. Hartley. Bowen’s last novel Eva Trout (1968) includes overtly homosexual characters, and earlier works ‘feature male and female characters who exhibit behaviours associated with homosexuality, but these behaviours are so coded that their definite identification as homosexual is difficult.’

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Roger Casement

The assumption could be made, in puritanical Irish nationalist circles, that homosexuality was a vice peculiar to imperial rulers, or to those corrupted by aesthetes in decadent London. Accepting that a nationalist hero could be as passionately committed to pursuing young men as to Cathleen Ní Houlihan was not going to come easily.’ Roy Foster


Portrait of Sir Roger Casement, Photo,
Courtesy National Library of Ireland

Roger Casement (1864-1916) was executed for treason in 1916, a year after Hennessy was born. 2016 is the centenary of his death and is the focus of a number of projects including a commission from IMMA to Simon Fujiwara, and from Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane to artist Alan Phelan. Phelan’s new film Our Kind imagines a future for Casement had he not been executed in 1916. The film is set 25 years later in 1941, where Casement is in exile from Catholic Ireland in Norway with his former manservant and now partner Adler Christensen. They are visited by Alice Stopford Green, a close friend and former supporter of Casement. The story unfolds as Adler and Alice both betray their relationships with him, paralleling Casement’s isolation from his homeland, beliefs and the ideals of the Rising. Casement was, like Oscar Wilde, put on trial and then the focus of the case shifted and they were publicly humiliated for his homosexuality. Their prosecution sent out a strong message to men and women about the consequences of ‘lewd acts’ and Casement’s, ‘tis death to give, my love’ is prescient.

Hennessy and Robertson Craig met less than twenty years after Casement had been executed and their formative years were spent in the shadow of that event. On one hand it explains the need for privacy and discretion in their lives, but on the other points to how extraordinary it was that they should create works with explicitly homosexual themes. Hennessy occupied the space of insider and outsider, something that gave him the capacity to see beyond the rigid social structures of his era. In Ireland, the birth of the new state and the puritanism of de Valera’s government left no room for difference. Nationalists claimed that Casement’s notorious diaries that detailed his sexual life were forgeries made to besmirch the hero’s reputation. Roy Foster says they ‘featured as a sulphurous instalment in the long tale of perfidious Albion and betrayed Hibernia: reasonably enough, since the use made of them by the British authorities was indeed perfidious in the extreme.

Casement embodies many of the values left behind in the forging of the image of a new Irishman in the 1920s. He was an anti-imperialist consul, a baptized Catholic and confirmed Protestant. Born in Dublin of a County Antrim family he was a cultured nationalist, a closeted homosexual, a butterfly collector, a humanitarian and a poet. Casement has offered a means of thinking about much of Irish life, indeed much of human life in the twentieth century. In placing the image of Casement in juxtaposition to one of the heroic islanders created by Seán Keating, we can learn much about the sorts of absolutes espoused by the New Ireland.

No human hand to steal to mine
No loving eye to answering shine,
Earth’s cruel heart of dust alone
To give me breath and strength to groan.

I look beyond the stricken sky
Where sunset paints its hopeless lie
That way the flaming angel went
That sought by pride love’s battlement.

I sought by love alone to go
Where God had writ an awful no.
Pride gave a guilty God to hell
I have no pride – by love I fell.

Love took me by the heart at birth
And wrought out from its common earth –
With soul at his own skill aghast –
A furnace my own breath should blast.

Why this was done I cannot tell
The mystery is inscrutable.
I only know I pay the cost
With heart and soul and honour lost.

I only know ‘tis death to give
My love; yet loveless can I live?
I only know I cannot die
And leave this love God made, not I.

God made this love; there let it rest.
Perchance it needs a riven breast
To heavenly eyes the scheme to show
My broken heart must never know.
Roger Casement
The Nameless One (c. 1898)
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The White Stags and Gerard Dillon

Writing on Gerard Dillon, Riann Coulter notes ‘Although his repertoire also includes fathers, businessmen, and priests, by the late 1930s Keating’s depictions of Irish masculinity in paintings such as the Race of the Gael, c 1939, encapsulate the post-Independence Irishman as a sturdy, pragmatic peasant. Allowing little space for diversity, this vision of a national masculinity certainly failed to include homosexuals.’ But this national archetype did not always go unquestioned. Hennessy was not alone among artists in Ireland who addressed the theme of masculinity in their work; Basil Rákóczi (1908-1979) and Gerard Dillon (1916-1971) took the image of the heroic new-Irishman and sexualised him and his experiences. Rákóczi came to Ireland to wait out the Second World War and he and his sometimes partner Kenneth Hall (1913-46) set up the White Stag Group.

Rákóczi made the almost obligatory journey to the West of Ireland to paint for himself the landscapes immortalised by Paul Henry. There he encountered the working men of the Aran Islands who had been exalted by Keating and his peers as the epitome of the Irish. Keating’s men are typically upright and engaged in some useful activity. If posed, they do so with a gun, camán, or other attribute that signifies manliness and vigour. Rákóczi’s Islander on Inishmore (c. 1940-41) adopts the same ethnic clothing familiar from Keating’s depictions of the men of Aran: the geansai, pampooties and cris; stone walls and cottages fill in the background. But the similarities end there. Rákóczi’s Islander is supine and languid. His waist is slender, boyish or even feminine. He rests his head on his shoulder exposing the long and sensual nape of his neck. His large hand rests on his thigh close to his groin which is painted in a curiously suggestive manner. He represents a combination of passivity and latent strength. Rákóczi returned to Dublin and exhibited these works in 1942. He was surprised with how well they sold and wrote in his personal journal, ‘I think the unconscious homosexuality sold them.’

Gerard Dillon Curfew

Gerard Dillon
private collection

Although he never exhibited with the White Stag Group, Gerard Dillon was friendly with Rákóczi. Dillon sent the gift of a sketch called Curfew to Rákóczi that shows two men lying on a bed displaying signs of arousal. Recently discovered by Karen Reihill as part of her research for Gerard Dillon, Art and Friendships, it has an inscription that, as Reihill points out, demonstrates a relationship of ‘trust and intimacy’ between the two artists. ‘Dear Benny, you’ll forgive me for sending you such a thing – but you’ll know it’s only meant for you to see – do burn it after you’ve looked and laughed at it. I was amusing myself and my thoughts ran in this direction. I thought of freedom – and Curfew – the result. Well I wish you a happy Xmas. Gerard.’ Clearly Dillon and Rákóczi were open with each other about their sexual orientation and with his background in psychoanalysis, Rákóczi encouraged discussion and a deeper self-awareness in Dillon. Although they make up a fairly small percentage of his output, Dillon’s works that show intimate interaction between men are poignant and tender.

Gerard Dillon On the Beach, c. 1950 private collection

Gerard Dillon
On the Beach, c. 1950
private collection

On the Beach (c. 1950) shows two young men lying on the sand with a boat pulled up behind them. Unlike other Island works by Dillon, there are no other people or houses present, the figures have privacy and they won’t be interrupted. But although they look in each other’s eyes and mirror their body language they do not touch. There is intimacy and affection, but anything else is left unrequited. Dillon is speaking to a reality for many people, a recognition that attraction exists, but there is sometimes a concomitant inability to push that towards realisation. In the case of Rákóczi, it took the birth of a beloved son and a failed marriage for him to reach this point in his own life. Psychoanalysis had helped him on this journey, but he would remain a kind of exile; as after the war, he did not settle in London but made his home in Paris.

Gerard Dillon Cottage Gable, c. 1950

Gerard Dillon
Cottage Gable, c. 1950
private collection

The Cottage Gable (c.1950) shows two young men standing in swimming trunks looking at each other where two houses meet. Like the earlier work they communicate but do not touch, the short distance between the houses is a chasm that cannot be bridged, the two women standing on the shore like staccato marks breaking their connection. Coulter describes the women as ‘a reminder of their social context: a traditional society that keeps them apart.’ It is this separation that defines Dillon’s depiction of same-sex attraction in his work. He effectively creates a tension and chemistry between his figures but the subject of the work appears to be the environment rather than the nascent relationship. These works are so successful because of the poignancy and seeming impossibility of the relationships they depict. Fionna Barber has questioned if there a pun in the title or a suggestion of sexual activity: ‘cottaging’ being the term for anonymous sexual encounters in public spaces. If she is correct, then it is an uncomfortable segue into an example of the male nude in Dillon’s practice. Entitled Boys catching crabs (c. 1940) it shows two naked young men cooperating in diving for shellfish by the pier. The tone of this work is more voyeuristic, the artist taking pleasure in depicting the men’s activity rather than suggesting any emotional exchange between them.

Dillon, like Rákóczi and Hennessy, went to the west of Ireland and found an image of Irish masculinity very different from the prevailing artistic orthodoxy. But these challenges to convention remained almost entirely unremarked by critics until 2005 when S.B. Kennedy quoted Rákóczi saying of the steady sales of his ‘Islanders’ in 1942 ‘I think the unconscious homosexuality sold them’. It was the only mention of homosexuality in a book devoted to a group whose leading members [Rákóczi and Hall] were gay, and an indirect reference at that. Unlike Irish literature which has been well served by major studies such as Eibhear Walshe’s Sex, Nation and Dissent in Irish Writing there has been a dearth of critical analysis on the subject of homosexuality in the visual arts until fairly recently. In the monographs on the White Stag Group, and Gerard Dillon the homosexuality of the artists was not considered suitable material for discussion despite the content clearly outlined earlier. It could be argued that this was out of a sense of delicacy on the part of the authors, but that was somewhat redundant as the artists concerned were dead at the time of publication; and in the case of Kenneth Hall – long dead (1946).

One of the first in-depth studies was published in Éire-Ireland in 2010 in which Riann Coulter analysed the manner in which Dillon’s homosexuality affected his work. She prefaces her text by remarking, ‘To date, Dillon’s sexuality has been either ignored or underplayed and seldom related to his paintings. In the only monograph on the artist, James White tentatively suggests that Dillon’s sexuality influenced his work, but he also attempts to minimise that influence by claiming that “such was his religious feeling that although he was drawn to people of that type [my italics], if he once had an encounter I believe that it never occurred again.”’ Coulter expands by saying ‘In contrast to White’s speculations, the Belfast author Gerard Keenan who knew Dillon in London insists that he was “a very well-adjusted homosexual”.’

Gerard Dillon Circus Acrobats Ulster Museum

Gerard Dillon
Circus Acrobats
Ulster Museum

S.B. Kennedy’s The White Stag Group contains a substantial discussion of Rákóczi’s interest in the subjective and psychoanalysis, the question of why he began that journey is not addressed, why he may have felt the need for psychotherapy. In fact he and Herbrand Ingouville-Williams met at a time when both of their marriages were coming to an end. Both got divorced in the early 30s, at a time when divorce was still shocking and uncommon. In order to work through his distress, Ingouville-Williams undertook a course of psychoanalysis with Karin Stephen. Karin née Costelloe was a fascinating character who married Adrian Stephen, another psychoanalyst in 1914. Adrian was the younger brother of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, and their family home had been at the centre of the Bloomsbury group. Adrian had a number of homosexual affairs, most famously with the artist Duncan Grant. Karin was close to James Strachey (brother of Lytton) who had undertaken psychoanalysis in Vienna with Sigmund Freud and later translated his writings into English. Strachey, although married to Alix, had affairs with men including George Mallory, Harry Norton and John Maynard Keynes. Karin Stephen knew enough gay men to be a sympathetic therapist for Ingouville-Williams and it certainly helped him move forward in his own life. On completion of his analysis he began to study psychology for himself. Soon after he met Rákóczi and he introduced him to psychology, then in 1933 they set up the ‘Society for Creative Psychology’ together. Writing in The White Stag Group, Kennedy alluded to the possibility of a more intimate relationship between them. He says that Rákóczi and Ingouville-Williams met when the latter was ‘in the midst of a disintegrating marriage and seeking new interests’. He goes on to quote from a letter written by Ingouville-Williams in which he says, ‘I should be so much happier living quietly with Benny [Rákóczi]’. Kennedy presents a certain amount of evidence, but allows the reader to come to their own conclusion. Nevertheless, the importance of Ingouville-Williams to Rákóczi was proven later when he founded the White Stag Group with Kenneth Hall. The stag was the heraldic symbol of the Ingouville-Williams family so the very existence of the group was a lasting tribute to Ingouville-Williams who died in 1945.

Kenneth Hall’s story was different. He spent six years in Ireland and while there, had a relatively supportive and understanding network of friends. He took an active part in cultural life, painting and exhibiting regularly. Kennedy considered him ‘without doubt the finest of the White Stag painters’. At times Hall despaired of the conservatism of Dublin and described his wish to meet ‘someone Bohemian’. He asked Rakoczi ‘shall we be human again when we leave these benighted shores? At the end of the war, Hall was reunited with his family in December 1945 but this was a source of anxiety as his relationship with his father was ‘never likely to be friendly or easy’. Sadly, Hall’s hope that me might be ‘human again’ when he returned to England was not to be fulfilled. He was unable to cope with life in the post-war years and could not imagine a future for himself. He committed suicide six months after returning to England the cause of death being ‘depression’. He was thirty-three years old and the cause of his depression not discussed. Not only was this a tragic loss of life, but it was also an indictment on the society in which he lived. There were no official support networks for young gay men; on the contrary they were still subject to legal sanction and prosecution. The absence of critical analysis of the theme of homosexuality in the lives and works of the White Stags was reflected in the writings on Hennessy and Dillon. But this silence only served to reinforce the sense of shame that drove young men to early graves. Open and frank discussions create spaces in which difference can breathe; silence is suffocating. It was also a missed opportunity for a much greater understanding of these men and the forces that spurred their creativity.

What separates Hennessy from Dillon and the White Stags; is a deliberate rather than unconscious exploration of homosexual identity. Rákóczi had a declared interest in psychology and his ‘subjective’ art sought to explore ‘the inner structure of things’ but a work like Lost in a Forest (1945) fails to convey a layered emotional experience. Hennessy used realism, not surrealism, to depict real emotional states and the subsequent evolution of a sexual life. Looking at Self-Portrait (1945) one is struck by the dark palette used by the artist and the shadow that falls across his face almost entirely obscuring it. The artist is hiding from the viewer, presenting an image that is only a part of the psychological whole. It is a kind of visual allusion, depicting a life lived half in the shadows.

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