Louis le Brocquy (1916-2012)

April 27 2012

Image of Louis le Brocquy (1916-2012)

Picture: Guardian

The great Irish painter, Louis le Brocquy, has died. The Guardian has a nice story about the self-taught artist's initial rejection by the arts establishment:

When the National Gallery of Ireland acquired Louis le Brocquy's canvas A Family, in 2002, he became the first living Irish artist to have a painting in the collection. It is a modern parable. Le Brocquy, who has died aged 95, painted A Family in 1951, and Gimpel Fils, his London gallery from 1947 for the rest of his life, exhibited it that year. In 1952 a group of patrons offered to buy the painting for £400 and present it to the municipal gallery in Dublin, but the art advisory committee rejected it as incompetent.

Four years later, it won a prize at the Venice Biennale, was bought by the Nestlé Foundation and hung at its Milan headquarters until 2001. The Irish businessman Lochlann Quinn then bought it from Agnews in London for £1.7m, and with his wife, Brenda, presented it to the National Gallery of Ireland.

Stories of museums rejecting artists who would one day become succesful are familiar in art history. Oh, how they used to laugh at Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso and all the rest. Less well known, on the other hand, is that the reputations of those modern artists who are immediately embraced by the museum world tend to decline quite quickly once history intervenes. It is practically a statistical fact that most of the contemporary artists fawned over by museums today will be more or less forgotten in a hundred years time. And it is almost as certain that we today will not have heard of the artist who, a century hence, will be fetching the biggest prices.

Why is this? I don't know - fashions and tastes change. But it probably has something to do with the fact that the key driver of contemporary artistic fortunes, hype, has by definition a short shelf-life. In a world where we struggle to qualitatively assess art, we seek value instead from an artist's reputation, which in turn is often derived from the amount of media coverage they receive. And it's easy these days for an artist to get into the press. Art history, which as a discipline is questioning, rational (usually), and empirical, is a far harder mistress to please.

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