Legendary portrait of John McCormack for Athlone exhibition

The Luan Gallery has secured the loan of a famous portrait of John Count McCormack as part of a Christmas exhibition on the legendary singer.

The portrait of John Count McCormack by Sir William Orpen has been given on loan from the National Gallery of Ireland. The exhibition will open to the public on Thursday, December 17, and continue until Sunday, January 10. The People’s Tenor, a documentary produced by Martin Dwan about the life and phenomenal career of John McCormack will accompany the Orpen portrait.

Mayor of Athlone Municipal District Cllr Tom Farrell said: “We are thrilled to be given this opportunity by the National Gallery of Ireland to bring the great Sir William Orpen’s portrait of John McCormack to Athlone. It is fitting that it will be exhibited in the venue where the Athlone native sang at a Grand Concert in 1903 also featuring the artist Miss Lily Foley whom he later married. The venue was formerly known as the Fr Mathew Hall and is now the location of our stunning Luan Gallery. By showing this stellar Orpen portrait of McCormack, we hope to encourage the people of Athlone, Westmeath and beyond to remember and celebrate the lives and talents of these two internationally acclaimed Irish artists.”

Sir William Orpen, was a highly skilled and successful portrait and subject painter and is recognised as one of the greatest Irish portrait artists. He was born in 1878 in Stillorgan, County Dublin and was based in London initially as a student and then as he forged a successful career. He returned to Ireland regularly and also taught at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art where his academic style had a significant influence on many Irish artists. He was one of the official war artists sent to France during World War 1 and produced over 138 pieces depicting the brutal reality of what he experienced, most of which he donated to the British government.

Manager of Athlone Arts & Tourism, Carmel Duffy said: “When this work was acquired by the National Gallery in 2009, Christies described it as one of the best paintings by Orpen to come to the market in many years. In the portrait, McCormack sits, relaxed, in crumpled tennis togs holding a music score in his hand. The red pin on his lapel is the Légion d’Honneur which McCormack received in 1924 and Orpen added to the portrait retrospectively. McCormack gazes out at the viewer with a somewhat melancholy expression, in a convincing, informal pose. This portrait, painted in the summer of 1923, is the result of a collaboration of two artistic titans – it is truly a great work and it is truly wonderful to exhibit it here in Athlone’s Luan Gallery.”

A complimentary programme of events is currently being organised by the Luan Gallery team and will feature a series of talks and guided tours which will celebrate the lives and talents of William Orpen and John Count McCormack.
A private viewing will take place before the exhibition opens to the public on Thursday, December 17

Admission to the gallery is free for groups and individuals. Tours and workshops for groups and schools can be arranged by contacting the gallery in advance on 090 6442154. Luan Gallery is open Tuesday – Saturday 11.00 – 17.00, Sunday 12.00 – 17.00 and is closed on Mondays.