Artists in the Collection

Gerard Dillon

Born 1916, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Died 1971, Dublin, Ireland

Gerard Dillon was largely self-taught as an artist principally working in a deliberately primitive style. He was born off the Falls Road in Belfast and worked as a house-painter and decorator in his early years, though an interest in the arts was apparent as a teenager.

In 1939, he and a friend went on a cycling holiday in the Connemara, an event which his biographer James White has since labelled “the most important development of his life” (Gerard Dillon: An Illustrated Biography, Wolfhound Press, Dublin, 1994).

The imagery of the land, criss-crossed as it was by stone walls and dotted with cottages, and of the people in their brightly coloured home-spun clothes, remained with him for life and reappeared in many of his works. Dillon’s first solo exhibition was held in 1942 in the Country Shop on Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, and was opened by the champion of modern art in Ireland, Mainie Jellet (1897-1944).

He also exhibited in Drogheda in the 1950’s at the behest of the Municipal Gallery Committee, and was friendly with Nano Reid and painted several scenes of Drogheda and the Boyne Valley, often collaborating on works, Reid appears to be depicted in the Nano’s Dream Castle at the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI 4717).

In 1943, Dillon showed his first work at the RHA. During the 1940s and ’50s he became the rising star of the Irish avant-garde, his works widely exhibited and written about. His career has commonly been characterised as a succession of different phases, from his early naïve landscapes, to his final dream-scapes, populated by harlequins. Dillon died as result of a stroke in 1971.