art of keeping it simple
Imogen Stuart came to Ireland, living in Laragh Castle near
Glendalough with her husband, Ian Stuart (also a sculptor),
his mother Iseult, sometimes visited by Maud Gonne, then a very
old lady. In a fascinating biographical interview the artist
also describes to Brian Fallon life before that, in Berline,
as daugheter of art critic and novelist Bruno Werner. The family
was forced to evacuate to Bavaria and then Vienna, and after
the war she was apprenticed to the Bavarian master, Hitzberger,
to learn what she particularly emphasises as the 'craft' of
sculpture, and particularly carving in wood.
eases out the early influences on her work, including her father,
and why, instead of focusing on the Gothic heritage of wood
carving, in her essentially modern manner, she was inspired
by the Romanesque, instilling her work with a sense of calm
and order and deep inner peace even when most tragic. Her emotional
response to Irish stone carving and to Celtic hagiography fused
two strong traditions. The individual nature of the Irish artist,
too, working alone rather than in schools, appealed to her.
A parallel may be seen in the work of Oisin Kelly, also trained
in Germany, for whom she had a great respect, but she differed
in her method of working, exploring each theme through a variety
of materials from the cartoon through different kinds of wood
to stone and bronze, and on widely differing scales. Fidelity
to the organic nature of her material is her guiding force.
career is reviewed in this beautifully illustrated book, with
essays from Brian Fallon and Peter Harbison, and a catalogue
of her work. Her work, alas, is rarely seen in publications.
commissions at first from churches, and for new commercial centres
and other public sculpture, and-a very important area undervalued
even in this comprehensive study-portrait heads, unexaggerated
renderings of acutely observed personalities. She is unusual
in that she experienced no crisis of development.
The simplest of images seems to have been her aim from the start,
through which, more and more down the years, a relaxed sense
of joy and humour has permeated, elevating her subjects however
serious. Her sculpture, even the smallest, is always true to
its context whether this is described or not, just as her art
has always been true to the deeply held tenets of her life.
Hilary Pyle, Irish Times, 20 April 2002.
Stuart was born in 1927 in Berlin, a child of two art historians.
The elder of two sisters, she was named from Shakespeare's Cymbeline.
All the family survived the war and its privations. She studied
sculpture under the traditionalist Otto Hitzberger, who later
took as a pupil a young Irishman, Ian Stuart, son of writer
Francis Stuart and his first wife, Iseult Gonne. The two students
fell in love and in 1951 Imogen came to Ireland to marry. The
couple had three daughters, later parting ways.
country Imogen Stuart has been much in demand, with a long list
of church and public commissions. Some of her best-known work
seems utterly Irish; a Celtic derived 'primitivism', though
German carving traditions and German expressionism provide other
obvious lineages. Other works, especially her animal pieces,
are delicate, almost oriental. Her appeal is obvious; no explanations
are required, she taps into a beating vein.
of people pay tribute here - archaeologist Peter Harbison, theologian
Enda MacDonagh, critic Brian Fallon. The most unusual element
is the long interview between the artist and editor Brian Fallon,
which ranges over personal and artistic parts of her life. It's
also an extremely handsome tome with unusually generous picture
and white space. The photographs are excellent'