Archive for the Art Category

Birth of a Galaxy – Max Ernst

Posted in Art, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on February 17, 2021 by telescoper

by Max Ernst (1891-1976), painted in 1969, 92 x 73 cm, oil on canvas.

The Hunger

Posted in Art, History, Television with tags , , on December 8, 2020 by telescoper

An iconic image of the Great Irish Famine: pen & ink drawing of Bridget O’Donnel and two of her children by (it is believed) James Mahony, published in the London Illustrated News on 22nd December 1849.

The last couple of Monday nights have seen the airing of a two-part documentary series called The Hunger on RTÉ. It was, of course, about the Great Irish Famine, which led to the death of one million (mainly poor) Irish people and the emigration of over two million in the subsequent years. It was a shattering episode that altered Ireland for ever; the population of this island still hasn’t recovered to pre-Famine levels.

The series, based on a serious scholarly book called Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, and narrated by Liam Neeson, was unflinching and sometimes harrowing to watch, the dreadful personal accounts of suffering juxtaposed with equally shocking graphics showing the scale of the depopulation of rural Ireland. I haven’t read the book on which the The Hunger is based, but have ordered it from the local bookshop.

‘No imagination can conceive — no tongue express— no brush paint— the horrors of the scenes which are daily exhibited in Ireland’, observed Senator Henry Clay in 1847 at the height of the Great Hunger.

I think it would be great if The Hunger were shown on British television, though I suspect few would watch it. The British prefer their own propaganda to the truth about the empire. Oscar Wilde once remarked “The problem is the English can’t remember history, while the Irish can’t forget it”. I don’t think the Great Famine will be forgotten soon, but I for one don’t see that as a problem.

Et in Arcadia…

Posted in Art with tags , on November 28, 2020 by telescoper

“It says ‘Top Shop’…”

I doubt if anyone will get the joke without a hint.

Astronomy Photograph of the Year 2020

Posted in Art, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on September 24, 2020 by telescoper

Very busy today so I only have time to share a this stunning picture, the overall winner of the 2020 Astronomy Photographer of the Year, Andromeda Galaxy at Arm’s Length? by Nicolas Lefaudeux (France).


Photo credit: Nicolas Lefaudeux/2020 astronomy photographer of the year

A Revolutionary Manhole Cover

Posted in Architecture, History, Maynooth with tags , , , , , on August 20, 2020 by telescoper

I must have walked dozens of times past the above manhole cover on Maynooth University’s North Campus without paying too much attention. Then I noticed a post on Twitter of another such cover in County Kerry, in the thread following which someone mentioned one on Maynooth campus so I thought I’d take a picture of it. They must have been made for the centenary commemorations in 2016. There’s more than a hint of Soviet-style design in the artwork.

The figure depicts Eamon Bulfin raising the flag of Irish Republic above the GPO on Easter Monday 1916, the start of the Easter Rising. After the end of the rising Bulfin was condemned to death, but his sentence was commuted and, after being imprisoned in Britain for a time, he was deported to Argentina. He returned to Ireland when the Irish Free State in 1922 where he lived until his death in 1968.


The people who do things and what they do

Posted in Art, Cricket, Football, Opera, Television with tags , on July 19, 2020 by telescoper

It’s a tough lesson to learn in life that the people you admire or idolize for their contribution in a particular arena (whether that be sport, art, science or something else) turn out to be people you can’t stand in terms of their character or political views.

You have to separate, for example, having a high regard for Ian Botham’s cricketing prowess from having a high regard for his personal character. In fact I can think of few sportspeople whose company I’d enjoy socially.

The same goes in many other spheres. Richard Feynman was a truly great physicist but I’ve never bought into the personality cult surrounding him. In fact I doubt I would have liked him very much at all if we’d ever met in person. They say you should never meet your heroes. They’re right.

Another example is Richard Wagner, a brilliant composer but really horrible man, who brings us to this clip from the end of Twilight of the Gods (the last episode of Series 7 of Inspector Morse, first broadcast in 1993).

I won’t spoil the plot if you haven’t seen it but it involves a famous opera singer, Gladys Probert, who visits Oxford to perform and receive an honorary degree. On the way to the ceremony she is shot, but was she the intended victim?

Opera-loving Morse is a huge admirer of Gladys Probert but in the course of his investigation he uncovers some unpleasant truths about her private life. He solves the crime but the case leaves him dispirited.

Here is the ending. John Thaw is Inspector Morse and Kevin Whateley is Detective Sergeant Lewis.

Evicted – Elizabeth Thompson (Lady Butler)

Posted in Art, History with tags , , , , , on July 1, 2020 by telescoper

I was listening to an interesting radio programme the other day about artistic depictions of Ireland and Irish history. One of the paintings discussed  was a work called Evicted which was painted in 1890 by Elizabeth Thompson (Lady Butler). I haven’t seen the actual painting – the original (oil on canvas) is apparently somewhere in University College Dublin – but i found the discussion intriguing and decided to see if I could find a representation on the internet. Here it is in reasonably high resolution.



I’m not a proper art critic or anything, but I found this a remarkably powerful work of art made all the more interesting when I read a little bit about the artists. Elizabeth Thompson married Lieutenant General Sir William Butler after which she became Lady Butler. She made her name as an artist painting heroic depictions of British soldiers in, for example, the Crimean War. When her husband retired from military service the couple moved to Ireland, and at the time this painting was made they were living in Wicklow where one of their neighbours was none other than Charles Stewart Parnell. The late 19th Century was the time of the Land War, a period of intense social unrest in rural Ireland caused by the exploitative practices of landlords and the unfair treatment of tenants. Parnell was a vigorous campaigner for land reform and the Butlers became staunch supporters of the cause.

One day Elizabeth witnessed the eviction of a Irishwoman from her cottage in the Wicklow mountains and was so moved by it that she made this wonderful painting. When it was exhibited in London it was met with disapproval for being “too political”. The British establishment of the time did not appreciate anything too critical of the Empire.

In the painting itself there are some striking touches. The eviction party, its job done, can be seen to the left disappearing back down the valley. By all accounts the people who did this sort of thing were sadistic brutes who very much enjoyed their work. Tenants were not only evicted, but their homes  and possessions completely destroyed in order to prevent them returning.  The standing figure of the woman seems to form a group with the pieces of her cottage that are still standing, her own devastation mirroring that of her home. A few glowing embers can be seen among the wreckage.

But it’s the depiction of the woman herself which in my opinion gives the painting most of its power. You might have expected her to be shown in obvious distress, hunched, perhaps crying or wringing her hands. Instead she is standing up with her hands by her sides, looking up at the sky. Is she praying? Resigned to her fate? Or perhaps just traumatized? The painting seems to ask the viewer: how would you react if this happened to you?



Malaria, by Remedios Varo

Posted in Art on May 20, 2020 by telescoper

by Remedios Varo Uranga (1908-63), painted in 1947, 25.5× 21cm, gouache on cardboard.

Dream Time

Posted in Art, Biographical, Covid-19, Mental Health with tags , , , , , , on May 13, 2020 by telescoper

The Dream (Salvador Dali, 1931)

I know I’m not alone during this strange and unsettling Coronavirus period in having extraordinarily vivid dreams almost every night.

I’m grateful for two things related to this. One is that I’m sleeping much better than usual, with not a trace of the insomnia I’ve experienced in the past during times of stress. The other is that these dreams are very far from being nightmares. Most of them are benign, and some are laugh-out-loud hilarious.

The other day, for example, I had a dream in which Nigel Farage returned from his recent trip to Dover in search of migrants publicity to find his house filled with asylum seekers singing the theme from The Dambusters. There was also a cameo appearance by Nigella Lawson in that dream but I forget the context.

I’ve written about dreams a few times before (e.g. here) and don’t intend to repeat myself here. It does seem to me however that dreams are probably a byproduct of the unconscious brain’s processing of notable recent events and this activity is heightened because the current times are filled with unfamiliar experiences.

I know some people are having far worse nocturnal experiences than me, and I don’t really understand why I’m having a relatively easy ride when my past history suggests I’d be prime candidate for cracking up. Perhaps I’ve had enough practice at dealing with anxiety in the past (not always very satisfactorily)? Perhaps the sense of detachment I’ve experienced over the past few weeks is part of some sort of defence mechanism I’ve acquired?

Anyway, don’t have nightmares!

Van Dyck and Beards

Posted in Art, Beards with tags , , , on April 23, 2020 by telescoper

The 17th-century Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641) is famous not only as an artist but also for a particular style of facial hair, the goatee/moustache combo now known as a “Van Dyke”, as demonstrated by the man himself in this self-portrait:

What I didn’t realise until recently however that van Dyck painted a very large number of studies of men with all kinds of beards. Here is a particularly fine example (Study of a Bearded Man with Hands Raised, 1616).

I’m not an expert but based on the poses I suspect these studies were done in preparation for paintings with biblical themes. Indeed the model looks rather similar to the figure in Jude The Apostle completed about three years later: