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Daniel O'Neill HEAD
Lot 9
Price Realised: €29,000
Estimate: €20,000 - €30,000
Daniel O'Neill, 1920-1974
Oil on board, 18 1/4" x 14" (46.3 x 35.6cm), signed indistinctly.

Provenance: The Dawson Gallery, Dublin (label verso).

Daniel O'Neill was the  youngest  son of Frank and Mary O'Neill from the Springfield Road i... Read more
Lot 9 - HEAD by Daniel O'Neill Lot 9 Daniel O'Neill HEAD
Estimate: €20,000 - €30,000
Daniel O'Neill, 1920-1974
Oil on board, 18 1/4" x 14" (46.3 x 35.6cm), signed indistinctly.

Provenance: The Dawson Gallery, Dublin (label verso).

Daniel O'Neill was the  youngest  son of Frank and Mary O'Neill from the Springfield Road in Belfast.  From 1939-1945 he worked as an electrician in Belfast until he received a gallery contract from Victor Waddington which resulted in his first one-man show at his gallery in South Anne Street in Dublin in 1946.  Mary O'Neill adored her only son and was probably the first to notice her son's different perception of the world when he started to paint,  'While other children light-heartedly drew cowboys and Indians, he was intensely serious  and painted lofty castles defended by knights in  shining  armour…and always wanted to draw from life.'   The death of a sister and the death of family  members during the Belfast  Blitz cast a long shadow over his perception of the world.   The Dawson street label attached to this painting points to it dating from the early 1960s, when the Dublin dealer, Leo Smith was exhibiting his paintings.  'Head' shows a woman with large eyes,  long neck, pale complexion, bare shoulders framed by a mane of loose black hair alluding to the Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani whose modern style was characterised by surreal elongated faces and necks.  

International Modernism, prevalent in London during the 1960s seemed of little interest to O'Neill who was struggling to settle in the city after living near Tyrella beach in County Down.  His early London pictures focus on the figure of his partner, Maureen, but this head doesn't resemble her appearance which suggest it may be someone else he knew at the time.  Many aspects of the painters life remained enigmatic during this period  as his visits to Ireland became less frequent.   It is possible this work was one of several works entitled 'Head'  at the Dawson gallery exhibitions by the painter in 1960 or 1963 but catalogue details and newspaper descriptions are scant and don't give us any further help with this work.    One  critic made a general comment on his figures of women stating that his 1960 show  was preoccupied with dark eyed women who inhabited a magic world and in 1963 a writer noted O'Neill's  half-length figures were painted in simple tones with little detail.  The Belfast writer, Gerard Keenan (1927-2015) told this writer that  Daniel O'Neill visited the Tate Gallery in Millbank in London during the 1960s which implies he most likely viewed the popular exhibition of selected works by Amedeo  Modigliani and Chaim Soutine, 'Modigliani &  Soutine'  arranged by the Arts council of Great Britain in association with the Edinburgh Festival Society.  The painter most  likely first saw the Italian's work in the Irish Exhibition of  Living Art (IELA) in 1948 when the Bromford Collection of European works which included Modigliani's paintings were shown in Dublin.   

A retrospective exhibition of Daniel O'Neill at OPW's Farmleigh gallery will take place in March 2022.  An exhibition to celebrate the Centenary of O'Neill's birth was postponed in May and November 2020 due to the pandemic restrictions.  Two Paintings from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), 'Modigliani Land' and 'Soutine's Sister' which are included in the exhibition and illustrated in the accompanying book, 'Daniel O'Neill, Romanticism & Friendships' which would seem to underline the influence of the 1963 exhibition at the Tate Gallery on O'Neill's work.   

Karen Reihill

October, 2021.
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