Daniel O'Neill (1920-1974)

Belfast artist exhibited all over the world

Dan O’Neill was born in Belfast in 1920 and attended St John’s Public Elementary School, Colinward Street. Early in his career, he worked as an electrician by night for the Belfast Corporation Transport Department (following in his father’s footsteps), and painted during the day.

He also attended some art classes at the Belfast College of Art, and worked for a short time in the studio of Sidney Smith in Howard Street. However, he remained a largely self-taught painter.

Dublin art dealer Victor Waddington patronised O’Neill to enable him to paint full-time, and the artist exhibited to great acclaim in the 1945 Irish Exhibition of Living Art, and in Waddington’s Galleries from 1946 to 1955. Other exhibitions included a group show at the Mol Gallery, Belfast in 1940, and an exhibition with Gerard Dillon at the Contemporary Picture Galleries, Dublin in 1943.

His work was in a group show of religious paintings at the Ashley Gallery , London in 1950; Five Irish Painters, Tooth Galleries in 1951, and a joint exhibition with Colin Middleton at the Tooth Galleries in 1954. O’Neill moved to live and work from London between 1958 and 1971 when he returned to Belfast .

Together with Middleton and Campbell, O’Neill represents an Irish artist working in the 1950s who contributed towards the development of art at this time, and his work has influenced painters including David Crone and Patrick Graham. Mike Catto in Art in Ulster 2 (1977) described him as ‘a Romantic artist’ who ‘cited Matisse, Vlaminck, Soutine and Rouault as influences, but the remarkable resonances of his colours, whether in ‘dark’ pictures or ‘light’ were evidence of an original talent.’

O’Neill’s work is represented in the collections of the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Art in Dublin, the Ulster Museum , Queen’s University, Belfast, the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and the Bishop Suter Gallery, Nelson.