The French Connection

A unique exhibition of classic Irish art at the Ava Gallery in Clandeboye. Watch an online exhibition with curator David Britton below


‘I’m delighted to have them here,’ Lady Dufferin, a tall, older woman with a riot of peppery curls, says of Adam’s Fine Art opening a full-time office at Clandeboye estate. ‘So pleased.’

She’s popped in to see curator David Britton and check how the French Connection is going. The Ava Gallery was originally Lady Dufferin’s brainchild and while she’s turned management of the gallery over to Adam’s she still likes to keep her hand in.

Her delight with the exhibitions that Adam’s have staged in the gallery since they took residence is obvious. For her the Ava Gallery is a place where people can come to see the best art on offer and be inspired. ‘We want to increase energy in the arts,’ she explains

The French Connection should certainly do that. It’s a non-selling exhibition, which means that Adam’s has been able to acquire museum quality canvases from private collections. Art by famous names such as Sir John Lavery and Charles Lamb and by more elusive artists like Katherine McCausland and the star of the show, Thomas Hovenden.

Hovenden is one of those Irish exports who were more appreciated in their adopted nations than in their homeland. One of the children orphaned by the Great Famine, Hovenden went on to study at the Cork School of Design and in France before he emigrated to New York.

Noted for his studies of African-Americans Hovenden was quickly adopted as an American artist. When he died at 54 – saving a young girl from being run down by a carriage – his passing was commemorated in the New York Times.

‘He has been neglected for nearly one-hundred years,’ Britton explains. ‘Until in the 1990s there was a big retrospective of his work in Philadelphia where he lived. Since then there has been a monograph done on his work.’

The two pieces on display at the Ava Gallery are the only two in Ireland and this is the first time they have been on public display. ‘The Story of the Hunt’ is an engaging scene. A bloodied hare lies at the hunter’s feet and the woman, a flash of colour in her red overdress, listens attentively. From her admiring smile and the hunter’s focus on her, it’s clear that there is more than one hunt going on.

‘Wayside Chat’ has a similar charm. It captures a young man, clearly shirking his duties, talking to a flirtatious, hipshot girl. The clothes are antique, but the moment is universal.

The rest of the art on display is of the same high-quality. Britton indicates McCausland’s exquisite portrait of a woman serving dinner to her family. At the far side of the table a man leans out of the shadows, a spray of bright yellow flowers in the corner. There is a sense of captured space to her work, a feeling that life went on beyond the boundaries of the canvas.

In contrast a portrait by William Scott of Marie Henry, 'Breton Woman’ on the other hand is sparse, composed of flat planes and harsh lines. The old woman, who in her youth posed for Gauguin, has a still, quiet face dominated by a strong nose and shadowed, empty eyes. Yet despite the lack of detail the paint is impregnated with a real sense of Marie Henry’s personality.

Other artists featured in the exhibition include Mary-Kate Benson, Stanhope Alexander Forbes and May Guinness. Much of this art is drawn from private collections so this is a rare chance for the public to see them on display. One not to miss.

The French Connection runs at The Ava Gallery from August 16 to September 3. Special opening hours from August 16-19 are noon to 8pm. In September the exhibition will tour to the Hunt Museum in Limerick.

Tammy Moore