Arts and Creativity Editor Emily Sheehy attends a tour of the National Gallery, with a twist in celebration of the Bram Stoker Festival.
To celebrate Dublin’s Bram Stoker Festival, and to get in the mood for the Halloween season, I attended a tour of the National Gallery of Ireland, but with a twist. Underlings, an improv and sketch duo, guided us through some of the modern works of art in the Gallery as vampires Winifred and Anne in this comedic tour, full of vampire puns and pop culture references. They asked for our assistance in deciding whether these newer pieces of art merited a ‘fangs up’ or ‘fangs down’. Although they did not exactly reveal how they were able to go out in broad daylight, or why they didn’t have any fangs, we were assured that we would not be bitten, and that they unfortunately do not sparkle.
Although they did not exactly reveal how they were able to go out in broad daylight, or why they didn’t have any fangs, we were assured that we would not be bitten, and that they unfortunately do not sparkle.
The tour took place in the Milltown Wing, which houses Irish art from 1835 to 1965. Some members of the crowd came dressed in Halloween costumes for the occasion. We were encouraged to come in close to examine the painting, despite any fears we may have had about being bitten. The first piece they discussed was Jack B. Yeats’ oil painting ‘About to Write a Letter’. Anne was particularly excited by his striking use of the colour red, and the gaunt looking face of the figure in the picture. As it depicts a man leaving behind the wild days of his youth, they agreed it certainly aligned with vampiric sensibilities. It received a unanimous ‘fangs up’ from the crowd.
Anne and Winifred debated amongst each other whether ‘A Family’ by Louis le Broquy deserved their approval, despite the artist sounding like an ‘Interview with the Vampire’ character. Despite its muted colours and melancholic tone, it divided the audience as to whether it should receive vampiric approval. ‘Miserere’ by Margaret Clarke was a pleasant surprise to Anne, who did not expect depressing religious artworks to be included in the modern art section.
At the far end of the Milltown Wing, we stood before Daniel Maclise’s ‘The Installation of Captain Rock’. It depicts members of an Irish secret society called ‘The Rockites’ electing a successor after losing their previous captain. The painting captures a sense of chaos and social unrest in rural Ireland, which caused our two hosts to note that vampires are not the only immoral and violent beings walking this earth. Maclise’s piece was not favoured well by the crowd, receiving many ‘fangs down’.
One of the last paintings we viewed was ‘Calisto’ by Richard Rothwell. Winifred explained to us that Rothwell believed it was one of his best works and was furious at the way it was hung during the International Exhibition as it was placed in an obscure corner and too high for anyone to see. In protest, he wrote a strongly worded letter to the exhibition's president, and published the letter in a pamphlet. It was so interesting to learn the history behind this painting, while also being treated to a comedy show.
It was so interesting to learn the history behind this painting, while also being treated to a comedy show.
We finished the tour in a dark room housing Harry Clarke’s stained glass pieces. As we stood in front of ‘The Mother of Sorrows’, Winifred asked if anyone would consider becoming a ‘VVV’, a voluntary vampire victim. Overall, the tour cleverly blended art history with comedy and performance. I was able to learn more about the pieces in a way that was entertaining as well as informative. It was the perfect celebration of Irish artists from painters to Gothic fiction writers.