Mainie Jellett

b. 1897, Dublin

Mainie Jellett was a lead figure of the modern art movement in Ireland. Born in Dublin in 1897, she began her early training with the Metropolitan School in Dublin and under Walter Sickert at the Westminster School of Art. She also spent some time in Paris working alongside Degas and the French Impressionists. These experiences are reflected in Jellet’s early works, which are distinctly impressionist in style.

Whilst studying at Westminster Jellett met the artist Evie Hone and the two became life long friends. Encouraged by Sickert, the pair went to visit André Lhote in his studio in Paris. Lhote championed an academic form of Cubism that discarded traditional art practices, reduced forms to minimalistic shapes and incorporated them into geometric patterns. As his pupils, Jellett and Hone were encouraged to spend time in the Louvre, studying the old masters. Jellet had further exposure to Cubism through her meeting with the artist and Cubist theorist Albert Gleizes in 1921. From him Jellett found fascination in the symbolic power of colour, which encouraged her own belief that abstract colour and form are of universal significance.

Jellet, along with Hone, established an original and beautiful translation of Gleizes’ principles, although more flexible and less academic than those of their mentor. By now Jellett was fervent believer in the power of abstraction. She developed a process of painting, which saw her make detailed studies of her subjects then sought out what she regarded as the inner rhythms and ordered movements of the image. What resulted was a depiction that was obviously abstract yet still retained elements of the original study. Jellett’s confidence in the spiritual significance of colour was the driving force in her work and through colour harmony and tonal balance she created works of exceptional impact and charm.

Jellett exhibited in Paris and Brussels in 1925, to critical acclaim. In 1926 she published material and gave lectures on Cubism and through further international accomplishment in the 1920’s and 30’s Jellett solidified her artistic reputation in Ireland. In 1930 she exhibited at the Irish Exhibition in Brussels and with Sean Keating represented Ireland at the 1939 Worlds Fair in New York. A founding member of the influential group known as “The Dublin Painters”, which also comprised of Harry Clarke, Mary Swanzy, Paul and Grace Henry, to name but a few. Jellett was the founding chairperson of The Irish Exhibition of Living Art, established in 1943. This progressive move was an attempt at reversing what the member artists felt was quite a bleak art scene in Ireland, believing it was apparent internationally.

Recognized for her important and progressive work, Jellett is represented in most major institutions in Ireland.