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Mainie Jellett was one of Ireland’s most important artists. Her works in the Ulster Museum collection are some of the most popular among our visitors. Jellett’s impact on Irish art was not only through her own paintings, but also her championing of modern art. Read on to discover more about her work.

Artists featured in this Curation: Mainie Jellett (1897–1944)
9 artworks
  • The strength and energy of Mainie Jellett’s paintings are a true representation of her character. She can be credited as a driving force behind bringing Modernism to Ireland. While many other Irish artists were looking inward, and forming the new Celtic identity, Jellett was looking out. In fact, one of her early Modernist- inspired works, similar to this one, was among the first abstract paintings to be shown in Ireland in 1923.

    Abstract 1922
    Mainie Jellett (1897–1944)
    Oil on canvas
    H 91.9 x W 72 cm
    National Museums Northern Ireland
    Abstract
    Photo credit: National Museums Northern Ireland

  • The Ulster Museum holds around 200 works by Jellett, including 180 works on paper and even textiles. These include a wide variety of studies and preparatory drawings for paintings. Many are for her Cubist-inspired works, but there are also still lifes like this. This work was likely painted between 1914 and 1916 when Jellett was a student at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin. The painting is squared for enlargement which implies it is a smaller study intended to inform a larger version of the painting.

    Still Life 1914–1916
    Mainie Jellett (1897–1944)
    Oil on canvas
    H 33.7 x W 33.9 cm
    National Museums Northern Ireland
    Still Life
    Photo credit: National Museums Northern Ireland

  • The museum purchased this work from the same exhibition as the previous still life, and it was also painted while Jellett studied at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. Sir William Orpen was still teaching there in her first year of study. Before attending the school, Jellett received lessons from some of the most important women artists in Ireland at that time, such as Sarah Celia Harrison and Elizabeth Yeats.

    Seated Nude 1914–1916
    Mainie Jellett (1897–1944)
    Oil on canvas
    H 91.3 x W 61.2 cm
    National Museums Northern Ireland
    Seated Nude
    Photo credit: National Museums Northern Ireland

  • Jellett travelled to Paris in 1920 to study under André Lhote and became involved in the energetic French Modernist scene, joining the Abstraction-Création group. It was this new style, and particularly the Cubist influence, that Jellett brought back to Ireland. Alongside Evie Hone, she strove to cultivate Modernism Dublin.

    Like many women artists, Jellett has been accused of emulating the style of her male contemporaries, such as Albert Gleizes, whom she met in Paris. In fact, their friendship was much more collaborative and lasted long after her return to Ireland. They exchanged correspondence discussing his theories of abstract Translation and Rotation, and her thoughts about the relationship between colour and music theory.

    Seated Female Nude 1921–1922
    Mainie Jellett (1897–1944)
    Oil on canvas
    H 56.3 x W 46.2 cm
    National Museums Northern Ireland
    Seated Female Nude
    Photo credit: National Museums Northern Ireland

  • Before travelling to Paris, Jellett went to London and studied under Walter Sickert at the Westminster School. It was here that she met Evie Hone, a fellow Irish artist, who became her lifelong friend and creative collaborator.

    Head of a Woman
    Mainie Jellett (1897–1944)
    Oil on canvas
    H 40.7 x W 46 cm
    National Museums Northern Ireland
    Head of a Woman
    Photo credit: National Museums Northern Ireland

  • After returning to Ireland, Jellett was heavily criticised for her style during the 1920s and 1930s. The Irish Times described her work as “(an) insoluble puzzle”, but she continued to develop and perfect her style, whilst campaigning for Modernist art through writing, teaching and exhibiting. This has led to the works from this period being some of the most treasured in the Ulster Museum’s collection.

    Painting 1938
    Mainie Jellett (1897–1944)
    Oil on canvas
    H 76 x W 64.6 cm
    National Museums Northern Ireland
    Painting
    Photo credit: National Museums Northern Ireland

  • In 1943 Jellett aided the establishment of the Irish Exhibition of Living Art. Before then the only national annual exhibition of art was the Royal Hibernian Academy show, which centred the traditional styles and themes of the time, in keeping with the notion of looking inward and forming the visual identity of Republic of Ireland. It could be said that the RHA controlled what was considered art in the country.
    The IELA was established as a counterpoint to this exhibition, and was greatly influenced by the Impressionists who broke away from the French Salon. The founders wanted to provide an exhibition space for practising artists to display work no matter which school or style they were part of, leading to a showcase of diverse art.

    Composition c.1932
    Mainie Jellett (1897–1944)
    Oil on canvas
    H 91.6 x W 71.2 cm
    National Museums Northern Ireland
    Composition
    Photo credit: National Museums Northern Ireland

  • In the latter part of her career, Jellett’s Christian faith, always important to her, began to appear more in her work. Though she still retained the Cubist influence of her earlier practice, the forms she depicted became more figurative.

    Allegorical Scene
    Mainie Jellett (1897–1944)
    Oil on canvas
    H 51.2 x W 82.6 cm
    National Museums Northern Ireland
    Allegorical Scene
    Photo credit: National Museums Northern Ireland

  • Jellett sadly died in 1944 at just 47 years old. Her work has generated much discussion and debate, long after her death, with some even questioning if she truly was an abstract artist. However, it is undeniable that in her relatively short career she helped to change the face of Irish art by exposing a new generation of artists to Modernism, and her legacy is something to be thankful for.


    We are looking forward to exploring Jellett’s life and work in more detail through an Ulster Museum exhibition in 2021.

    Composition c.1932–1935
    Mainie Jellett (1897–1944)
    Oil on canvas
    H 91.1 x W 71.1 cm
    National Museums Northern Ireland
    Composition
    Photo credit: National Museums Northern Ireland