The Abbey Theatre unveils two new portraits by Irish artists

The Abbey Theatre unveiled portraits of playwrights Tom Mac Intyre and Sebastian Barry as the latest additions to its impressive portrait collection on Monday 30 September.

Playwright and poet Tom Mac Intyre is captured by celebrated contemporary artist Colin Davidson while multi-award winning novelist and playwright Sebastian Barry is painted by renowned portrait artist Mick O’Dea RHA. These two new portraits are on view to the public in the bar of the Abbey Theatre.

The oil on linen canvas portrait of Tom Mac Intyre continues Colin Davidson’s exploration of large heads which represent the inner self of the sitter. In this portrait, the artist is almost carving the paint. With their overwhelming presence and sense of grandeur, Davidson’s portraits create a sense of uneasiness for the viewer, with the subjects simultaneously close to us but remaining just out of reach.

Mick O’Dea’s portrait depicts Sebastian Barry standing in the artist’s studio in front of a black Victorian fireplace looking out directly and engaging the viewer with his gaze. It is winter time and Sebastian is wearing a coat. The back of his head is reflected in the mirror of the mantelpiece. Ashes from a fire are strewn in the hearth. The portrait is an oil on linen canvas incorporating the traditional painting techniques of inpasto and glazing.

The visual artists who feature in the Abbey Theatre portrait collection span across a century. They include John B. Yeats, Sarah Purser, Lilian Davidson, Norah McGuinness, Seán O’Sullivan, James Sleator, Louis Le Brocquy, Thomas Ryan, James Le Jeune, Robert Ballagh, Basil Blackshaw, Carey Clarke and Michael O Nuallain. Artists who have contributed the most portraits to the collection are John B. Yeats (father of W.B. Yeats), Seán O’Sullivan and James Sleator.

The Abbey Theatre portrait collection comprises a living and expanding collection that charts some of the most significant theatre artists of the 20th Century. The collection began with the commissioning by patron Annie Horniman of four portraits in oil by John B. Yeats for the opening of the Abbey Theatre in 1904. These portraits of Frank Fay, W.G. Fay, Annie Horniman and Máire Nic Shiubhlaigh have recently been conserved, courtesy of funding from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s global Art Conservation Project. There is much excitement about having the newly conserved portraits back home in the Abbey Theatre.

The Abbey Theatre portrait collection, representing each decade of theatre history, hangs throughout the Abbey Theatre building.

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