Enniskillen gallery promoting contemporary Irish artists
The Clanart Gallery in Enniskillen was opened ten years ago by Loretta Lunny. She chose the name because her son is called Clive, she is Loretta, her daughter is Alexandra and her husband Nat.
Loretta was one of the first women to open an art gallery in Northern Ireland and the male fraternity who had a monopoly in the gallery business gave Clanart six months to live.
But 1995 was the first year of the Peace Process and the opening of the gallery coincided with renewed confidence in the economy; visitors from abroad and especially the Republic of Ireland who had boycotted the province during the Troubles ventured back.
Being a border county, Fermanagh`s lakeland was one of the first spots to attract newcomers and so business began to boom at the Enniskillen gallery centrally located in Darling Street.
In those first years there were not many paintings for sale over £1,000 but now ten years on there are not many on sale for less than £1,000. But as well as being a commercial success, the gallery has had a hand in promoting some of the most successful contemporary Irish artists, most notably Fermanagh born Clare Falconer.
Loretta Lunny trained as a nurse and while her children were being educated she remained in a secure civil service job. Her interest in art was sparked by her mother, Mary Hassard, a cook who worked in some of Fermanagh`s grand houses including Ely Lodge, the summer residence of the Duke of Westminster, and Captain Teal`s home at Lawnakilla just outside Enniskillen.
Loretta recalls being muffled in blankets in the family Austen Seven car, when her mother took her to visit art galleries in Dublin. Her mother`s modest purchases of paintings from local auctions gained pride of place in the family home at Chanterhill. Loretta still owns some of those early heirlooms including a Donegal landscape by W. J Carey which hangs in her own home alongside other paintings in her personal collection by Graham Knuttel, Ken Hamilton, Tom Carr, T P Flanagan, Liam Blake and Clare Falconer as well as a treasured work by Paul Henry.
The gallery prides itself on the presentation of the paintings it displays. Loretta`s brother Vincent Hassard, a superb craftsman, works in the studio below the gallery using quality frames from Italy and elsewhere. Women artists are strongly represented including landscapes and floral arrangements by the late A P Jury, a famously eccentric lady who was so attached to the donkeys which often featured in her paintings that they travelled with her by train between her homes on the Malone Road in Belfast and Donegal.
Brigid Birney from Sligo produces distinctive paintings of women and flowers, especially her favourite poppies. Exquisitely framed examples of Birney`s work are prominently displayed in the gallery. The fact that 38 Birney paintings were sold in two months, with prices ranging from £1300 to £4250, is a measure of their popularity. Phyllis Arnold from Crawfordsburn, Co Down, who produces fine miniature paintings is also represented.
Enniskillen born Clare Falconer is potentially the most successful of all the local artists on display. When she was still a student in the law faculty at Queen`s University, Loretta presented Clare to Ken Hamilton who used her as a model for his female portraits which have been so much admired by the Duchess of Abercorn among others.
When Clare obtained her degree in 1999, she decided to become a freelance painter. Her work has clearly been influenced by that of her mentor Hamilton but since she has been living in Rome her female portraits in particular have matured gaining a luminosity and classic elegance that is clearly influenced by European art. A still life is currently on display priced at £7,500.
Other Fermanagh artists featured in the gallery include T P Flanagan well known for his watercolour paintings of local grand houses including Florence Court and Castlecoole and the late Liam Blake whose work is reminiscent of but does not emulate that of Louis le Broquey.
But the Clanart specialises in Irish art from both north and south of the border. It has a faithful ‘repeat order’ clientele, who like to buy Irish art. Interior designers frequently call upon Loretta Lunny to recommend paintings for newly decorated homes. One client designed an entire room around a large floral canvas by John Duffy which had been purchased at the gallery. Duffy is based in Carrick on Shannon but is inspired by the flora and fauna of Malta, an island he likes to visit.
Alan Quigley from Galway is another popular artist who was greatly influenced by his former teachers, Dan O`Neill and Markey Robinson and by Modigliani. The Gallery currently displays several of his works including a scene at the Galway Races.
In the days before Graham Knuttel`s paintings became such a marketable commodity – one of his works featuring Sylvester Stallone was sold to the actor – Loretta Lunny had so much of his work that she created a Graham Knuttel room at the back of the gallery.
While individual artists like Jo Tinney and Frances Morris work and sell from their studios in locations such as the Buttermarket in Enniskillen, and the Basement Gallery at Blaney promotes periodic exhibitions where the work on display is also for sale, the Clanart Gallery is constantly offering a wide variety of styles to please not only local buyers but visitors from further afield.
Loretta Lunny buys Irish paintings through her agents in Dublin and Belfast; she buys from private collections but most of all she buys directly from the artists themselves. The Clanart is the exclusive Irish agency for work by Clare Falconer, Brigid Birney, Phyllis Arnold, Leo Toy, John Duffy, and the landscape painters Michael McCarthy and Bernard Reynolds.
By Jenny Cathcart