Trinity College Dublin: Virtual recreation of 1922 art exhibition that launched the Irish Free State onto world stage

A 3D digital recreation of the seminal 1922 art exhibition in Paris, Exposition D’Art Irlandais, that announced the Irish Free State to the world, will be launched by Catherine Martin, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media in Trinity College Dublin this evening [Friday, Jan 28th, 2022] at an event in the Trinity Long Room Hub.

In January 1922, as the Irish State was transitioning to independence, the Irish government participated in the 1922 World Congress of the Irish Race in Paris, to announce the arrival of the Irish Free State onto the world stage and garner support from the international community. This ambitious state-building event included conference sessions, lectures, concerts and drama.

The centrepiece was an exhibition of Irish visual arts showcasing oil paintings, sculptures, stained glass and textiles from artists such as Sarah Purser, Jack B Yeats, Harry Clarke, Sean Keating, Lily Yeats, John Lavery, Mary Swanzy, and Paul Henry, who all went on to form the canon of Irish art. The exhibition was an early deployment of soft power and cultural diplomacy with Irish art being used to rebrand postcolonial Ireland and show the world what the nation aspired to be.

Today, exactly 100 years on from the opening of the exhibition in Paris, sees the launch of the Seeing Ireland: 1922 project – a digital humanities initiative that recovers this overlooked art event in Paris by virtually recreating the exhibition and placing it in the context of Irish cultural political history. The exhibition, part of the Decade of Centenaries programme, has been developed by historians from the School of Histories and Humanities in partnership with the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute.

The digital recreation of the exhibition (www.seeingireland.ie) will give the viewer an immersive virtual experience of attending the original exhibition. The Seeing Ireland website is an ongoing project and new content will be added throughout 2022. Visitors to the website will be able to:

navigate a 3D reconstruction of the original exhibition space in Galerie Barbazanges and view many of the art works originally exhibited.
read about the artists, exhibits and the “propaganda value” of individual works – the political and cultural reasons why they were selected for the 1922 exhibition.
find out about the Congress and other elements of its programme including lectures, theatre, concerts and the motor tour of Paris.
learn about the historical context of the Congress – just two weeks after the Dáil ratified the Anglo-Irish Treaty and before Civil War became a reality, treaty and anti-treaty sides united behind the political purpose of the exhibition; propaganda through state approved visual art.


Catherine Martin TD, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media said: “I am delighted that my Department is supporting ‘Seeing Ireland: Art, Culture and Power in Paris, 1922’ through the Decade of Centenaries Programme. The story of the Exposition d’Art Irlandais and the Irish Congress, is told through this superb and thoughtful exhibition. It is particularly pleasing that visitors to the website from across the world, will be able to enjoy an immersive experience of a key moment in Irish art, with works by artists such as Sarah Purser, Jack Yeats, Seán Keating, being displayed in Paris in 1922, in an attempt to legitimise a postcolonial presence in the global field for Irish art and crafts.”

Included in the exhibition were overtly political works such as Lavery’s Funeral of Terence McSwiney and Blessing the Colours and Jack Yeats’ Bachelor’s Walk, In Memory. Portraits of Irish political figures such as Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins and Eoin MacNeill, among others, sought to showcase a capable functioning government. Other works challenged well-worn colonial cliches by depicting Irish people as proud, industrious and independent. Arts and craft exhibits, including stained glass, metalwork and embroidery, sought to position Ireland as a nation with a unique history invested in high art objects going back to medieval times. Interestingly, women accounted for almost half of the artists included in the exhibition.

Dr Billy Shortall, Ryan Gallagher Kennedy Research Fellow, Department of History of Art and Architecture, explained: “This important event in Irish cultural history was lost between the momentous military and political events of the War of Independence and the Civil War and was consequently overlooked in Irish art historiography. The exhibition was a bold political statement by the emerging State in Paris, the capital of art, about the scale and quality of contemporary visual arts in Ireland – something both sides of the Treaty divide embraced. This digital recreation allows us to view Ireland at this time through a cultural rather than a political or military lens.”

Dr Ciaran O’Neill, Ussher Associate Professor in Nineteenth-Century History, added: “Lots of commemorations in 2022 will inevitably focus on themes of political fracture and ideological divisions. Our project captures a fleeting moment of unity in 1922, when the emerging political class and artistic elite collaborated on an exhibition of Irish art and culture at the heart of the global capital of culture in Paris. Seeing Ireland examines the symbiotic relationship between the state and its artists since the moment of its creation in 1922. Our project will allow viewers to immerse themselves in that moment in time: a snapshot of what Ireland wanted the world to see.”

A collection of musical pieces from the 1922 congress will be performed by music group ‘We’re Not Together’ at the launch event this evening (5pm-6pm) in the Trinity Long Room Hub. The event, will also feature addresses by Catherine Martin, Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and the French Ambassador to Ireland, H.E. Vincent Guérend. A discussion by artists Mick O’Dea and Sinead Ni Mhaonaigh will also take place. This event will be live streamed as a webinar for online audiences. See here for more information about the online webinar: https://trinitylongroomhub-ie.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_jPsXdnfsQE2Fd_dFly9pHg

Seeing Ireland: 1922 was developed in partnership with Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute; The Irish Art Research Centre, Trinity; University of Notre Dame and Centre Culturel Irlandais. Funding was provided by the Decade of Centenaries Programme at the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. Further support was provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

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