Gerard Dillon

(1916 - 1971)

Born in Belfast, Gerard Dillon was a landscape artist and figurative painter. Leaving school at fourteen, he spent seven years working as a painter and decorator, primarily in London. From an early age Dillon had a keen curiosity for art and culture, and was particularly interested in the work of Marc Chagall and Sean Keating. In 1936 he decided to swap decorating for art and attended classes at the Belfast College of Art.

Dillon moved to Dublin in 1941 and in 1943 he showed his first painting, Disused Brickfield, at the Royal Hibernian Academy. From here he exhibited at the Irish Exhibition of Living Art, establishing himself as a regular contributor. He also showed several times with the Water Colour Society of Ireland. Settling for a time on Inishlacken and periodically visiting the Aran Islands, Dillon is known for painting attractive scenes of life in the West of Ireland using bold colours and a semi-naïve style. He credited Nano Reid for having a “great loosening influence” on his work, commenting that he “loved her way of painting very much”. Like many of his contemporaries, Jack B. Yeats, Charles Lamb and James Humbert to name a few, Dillon used the apolitical imagery of the West to convey a new vision of national consciousness. This view of ‘national art’ portrayed a visual code of unspoiled, rugged landscapes and shy, courteous people engaging in rural life, such as religious processions and weddings. For Dillon the particular atmosphere and light in this region represented a major contrast to the grey city life.

As well as the West, the countryside of the Boyne Valley and out to the coast at Mornington provided Dillon with ample inspiration.He chose to paint the medieval architecture of Drogheda, where he lived and worked for a time, as well as the monastic sites of Monasterboice and Mellifont. The influence of the mythical and archaeological iconography of high crosses at Monasterboice is evident, their Celtic carving and distinctive way of dividing up space are especially clear in Dillon’s work.

Gerard Dillon was a pillar of Irish Modernism. He was a member of the Dublin Painters Group and a senior member of the Exhibition of Living Art for twenty years. He also lectured at the National College of Art and Design and the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin. His paintings are represented in numerous public collections including the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Ulster Museum, Belfast, the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin and the Arts Council of Ireland.

Dillon passed away in Dublin in 1971.