Gerard Dillon

Dillon’s work utilises landscapes from the west of Ireland

Francis Gerard Dillon was born on Lower Clonard Street in the Falls area of Belfast in April 1916. The son of a postal worker and British army veteran father, and a strongly Catholic and nationalist mother, Dillon left Hardinge St Christian Brothers' school at 14 and began work as an apprentice painter and decorator. Despite his enthusiasm for drawing and painting, he spent only a brief period, perhaps as little as a few night classes, at the Belfast College of Art. He moved to London in 1934 where he worked in a variety of manual jobs to support his art.

Dillon first visited Connemara in 1939 provoking a lifelong fascination with the landscape and culture of the west of Ireland that was to produce paintings such as The Yellow Bungalow and The Black Lake. Prevented from returning to Great Britain on the outbreak of the second world war, Dillon spent the war years in neutral Dublin where he was associated with the artists and writers of the White Stag group, returning to London in 1945.

Dillon was a gay man whose homosexuality probably lay at the root of his break with the Catholic church. The male figure is a central motif in his painting. In later works, especially following the deaths of three of his brothers in the 1960s, the figure of a pierrot is a recurrent emblem of grief, loneliness and mourning.

Dillon exhibited widely in the postwar years, but was to withdraw his work from an Irish Exhibition of Living Art show in Belfast, in protest at the treatment of civil rights protestors at the hands of Northern Ireland’s 1969 unionist government. On a visit to Belfast two years later, he suffered a stroke and was admitted to the Adelaide hospital in Dublin where he died in June 1971. He was buried in Belfast.

Works by Gerard Dillon are held by a number of local collections, including those of the Ulster Museum, the Queen’s University of Belfast, Newtownabbey Borough Council and the University of Ulster.

The Gerard Dillon Gallery at the Culturlann on the Falls Road commemorates his work.

Further Reading:
Dictionary of Twentieth Century Irish Artists (2002) by Theo Snoddy; MAGNI Drawings, Paintings and Sculptures: The Catalogue (2000) by E Black; Gerard Dillon: An Illustrated Biography (1993) by J Black.