(Still) Dancing at a Northern Crossroads

Published in Issue 3 (Autumn 2000), Letters, Letters, Northern Ireland 1920 - present, Volume 8

Sir,—I read withgreat interest the response of readers (‘letters’, HI Summer 2000) tomy article, ‘Charles Lambe and the West of Ireland’ (HI Spring 2000).
Jim Jenkins wonders if Dancing at a Northern Crossroads is really setin Armagh and not the west of Ireland. While Charles Lamb came fromPortadown, the important part of his training took place in Dublinwhere he attended the Metropolitan School of Art from 1917 to 1922.Keating, William Orpen’s protégé, was the most influential teacher inthe school. Keating would have made Lamb aware from an early stage ofhis deep interest in the west of Ireland. Lamb would have been familiarwith all of Keating’s works on display at Royal Hibernian Academy, andother, exhibitions. The location of the painting is undoubtedlyConnemara, even though the picture was composed and painted in Dublin.Despite the fact that elements of the costumes are composite, they doadd up to an impression of Connemara clothing overall. A colleaguerecently wrote from Connemara regarding this work to say that she hasseen photographs of Aran girls and Connemara girls similarly dressedwith highly polished shoes. At the time Lamb composed this picture inDublin in 1920 he was already fascinated and absorbed by the west ofIreland. The northern references are so few as not to be important. Theonly important fact is the translation of the western images in aDublin studio in the creation of what Lamb recognised would be a majorexhibition work.
Jody Aliesan speculates that Dancing at aNorthern Crossroads is allegorical, an interesting proposal, but not,in my view, substantiated in the painting. It would have been foolishto create a serious picture including tricolour/Union Jack imagery.Lamb was not in the least political unlike Sean Keating—but evenKeating would not use this kind of imagery. It is a colourful picturelargely thanks to the colourful costumes worn by people in the west ofIreland. Any interpretation beyond this I have dealt with in thearticle. Yours etc.,

MARIE BOURKE
Keeper and Head of Education
National Gallery of Ireland

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