Rediscovered Artist Proves a Hit 100 Years On As Gallery Extends Exhibition - Eillen Battersby reviews Phelan Gibb in The Irish Times

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RECESSIONARY TIMES are not ideal for selling art yet such is the interest in a recently rediscovered Irish artist that a Dublin gallery has had to extend an exhibition to accommodate prospective buyers.

Phelan Gibb (1870-1948) may not immediately mean anything to many art critics, never mind the general public. However, the show of his work currently on view at the Peppercanister Gallery, Herbert Street, Dublin, near the famous church of the same name, has proveda revelation, on several counts.

This is not least because of the European ambiance of his work which makes him to Irish painting what Thomas MacGreevy is to Irish poetry.

Having been approached about the chances of mounting the show of Gibb, who had studied with Henri Matisse and Georges Braque in Paris and later joined both of them and other members of the Fauve School to paint in the south of France, gallery directors Antoinette and Bryan Murphy agreed.

The Fauve movement had been founded by Matisse in 1905 when he invited Andre Derain to come and share the unique light of the south where the Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean. By the end of that first summer, Matisse had completed a large body of work including 100 drawings. Phelan Gibb, the only Irish Fauve artist, arrived the following year and one of his finest works, Paysage, on show at present, dates from this stay.

In 1909 Gibb was back in Paris sharing a studio with Matisse and Braque and had become friendly with Gertrude Stein who was an admirer of his work.

Gibb also knew Picasso.

The Dublin show is exciting; on entering the space there is a sense of Matisse, Braque, Picasso and also Chagall. Gibb has a subtle, whimsical feel for colour and his otherworldly vision evokes Jack B Yeats with whom he exhibited in New York in 1913.

Both painted natural objects, particularly horses. There are two themed horse paintings in the show as well as a deer peering through a window. The exhibition continues at the Peppercanister Gallery until next Saturday

Relatively little is known of the early life of Gibb, who was born in London in 1870 to an Irish mother who gave him her surname, Phelan. Before arriving in Paris, he had studied in Newcastle on Tyne and Edinburgh.

Bruce Arnold’s sympathetic programme notes set the scene well. Gibb was famous in his day before outraging Dublin clerical sensibilities in 1913 when an exhibition of his work, including nudes transferred from Paris by Oliver St John Gogarty and Count Markievicz, artist husband of Constance, was closed by the police for “indecency”.

Why did he fall from fame to obscurity after his death in 1948? Among the suggestions is that he suffered severe depression.