Irish artist Louis le Brocquy dies in Dublin at 95

By SHAWN POGATCHNIK,Associated Press Updated at 2012-04-25 15:48:23 +0000

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DUBLIN (AP) — Irish expressionist painter Louis le Brocquy, who was best known for abstract portraits of Ireland's literary and artistic stars, died Wednesday in Dublin, the government announced. He was 95.

Irish President Michael D. Higgins praised le Brocquy's work as "amongst this country's most valuable cultural assets."

The cause of death was not given, but the painter's family said he had been ill for the past year.

Born in Dublin in 1916, le Brocquy traveled widely in Europe throughout his seven-decade career and was an accomplished painter in oil and watercolors, illustrator, lithographer, sculptor and tapestry maker. His best-known works regularly commanded six-figure prices at auctions over the past two decades, reflecting his status as Ireland's greatest living painter.

In the late 1930s he studied art in London and Venice, settled in the French Riviera, but fled back to Ireland to avoid Nazi occupation in 1940.

His first major works in 1946 were Cubist portraits of Ireland's often-demonized Gypsy community, the travellers, works researched during his frequent trips into the rural west of Ireland.

His work wasn't initially appreciated in his conservative homeland. His first masterpiece, the grey-and-white oil on canvas "A Family" in 1951, was brusquely rejected for display in Dublin. However it won accolades at the Venice Biennale and today is featured in a major display of le Brocquy's works in the National Gallery of Ireland, where he became the only living Irish artist to be included in the gallery's Permanent Irish Collection.

As a contemporary member of Ireland's cultural elite, he spent decades producing unique images of artists' and writers' faces — and sought, he said, to capture a glimmer of their souls.

"Clearly, it is not possible to paint the spirit. You cannot paint consciousness," le Brocquy said in a 1995 interview. "You start with the knowledge we all have that the most significant human reality lies beneath material appearance.

"So, in order to recognize this, to touch this as a painter, I try to paint the head image from the 'inside out' as it were, working in layers or planes, implying a certain flickering transparency," he said.

Among his subjects were playwright Samuel Beckett, fellow artists Picasso and Francis Bacon, poets W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney, and singer Bono. That latter 2003 portrait later fronted a global Irish advertising campaign called "The Irish mind."

Le Brocquy received Dublin's highest honor, the Freedom of the City, in 2007.

He is survived by his wife of 54 years, the artist Anne Madden, and their two sons, Pierre and Alexis. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.