FE McWilliam Gallery

New gallery celebrating one of Ireland's finest sculptors opens in Banbridge. Click Play Video for an online exhibition

The FE McWilliam Gallery and Studio in Banbridge launches with the single largest exhibition of Ireland’s most significant sculptor of the 20th century. 

Situated in the shell of an old tourist information office, the FE McWilliam Gallery opened in September 2008. Its high level security and cutting edge temperature-controlled technology has allowed the gallery to acquire a number of key pieces on loan from major contributors such as the Tate Gallery, as well as numerous significant art works from public and private collections across Britain and Ireland. 

'Nordic Bean'Frederick Edward McWilliam was born in Banbridge in 1909, spending his early years in the town before studying in Campbell College, Belfast. McWilliam left Northern Ireland to study at the Slade School of Fine Art where he met his wife Beth, and was based in England for the rest of his life. 

Arts Officer of Banbridge District Council, Deirdre Quail, is delighted to see the internationally acclaimed sculptor commemorated in the town of his birth.

‘The local response has been fantastic. People are really enjoying the gallery space as a whole and return numerous times. They remark that finally they have somewhere in the local area to bring friends and guests. In only three or four months of opening we have already had 9,000 visitors, and we are gearing up for the big tourist season of the summer.'

The gallery is more than a notable tourist magnet for the area. The McWilliam retrospective and its distinctively modern setting has already made waves in the Irish and international arts scenes.

‘There wasn’t much hype before we opened,' recalls Quail. 'We were maybe reluctant to shout about it because of the large scale of the project. But word has slowly filtered out and the response since has been incredible, especially from the art world. They really cannot get over that such a venue with art of such high calibre exists outside of Belfast, even in the entire island of Ireland.’

The sharp and clean design of the gallery has gained it European credibility, with the intimate setting drawing comparisons with the Rodin in Paris and the Guggenheim in Venice. The main gallery building currently houses the McWilliam collection but will later feature a variety of seasonal exhibitions, starting with a William Scott exhibition in March 2009.

As well as McWilliam’s most famous pieces such as 'Princess Macha' (1953) and the Legs series, the gallery features a reconstruction of the artist’s studio.

The original studio, car port and its contents were bequethed to Banbridge from the artist’s home in the Deirdre QuailHolland Park area of London by the estate of FE McWilliam. A replica of the studio was made after asbestos was found in the original building, and the result is an enthralling insight into McWilliam’s craftsmanship. 

Drafts, casts and maquettes of many of the completed sculptures currently on view in the gallery grounds were found within the studio, along with previously undisplayed pieces and unfinished work.

The replica studio building is situated in the sculpture gardens and will remain a permanent feature. Quail remarks that this serves to commemorate the life and work of the artist.

‘As well as the changing exhibitions, we aim to exhibit an aspect of McWilliam’s work every year, through incorporating different elements of his art or by involving another discipline’s perspective. The sensual shapes and lines of his work, such as 'Nordic Bean', could lend themselves to successful interpretations through dance or music.

‘As custodians of this part of the FE McWilliam estate, we hope that the gallery building will serve the purpose of both a museum and a gallery in dedication to one of our greatest scultpors.'

The FE McWilliam Gallery & Studio 
200 Newry Road, Banbridge, Co. Down, BT32 3NB
T: 028 4062 3322 E: femcwilliam@banbridge.gov.uk

Hilary Copeland