Friday 28 October 2016

What Lies Beneath: 1916 by Claus Havemann

1916 by Claus Havemann oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist

Niall MacMonagle

Published 26/09/2016 | 02:30

1916 by Claus Havemann
1916 by Claus Havemann

Over 40 years ago, Danish artist Claus Havemann missed the Cape Clear ferry, ended up on Sherkin, and has spent six months of every year on "very special" Sherkin ever since. "And I will do so till I die. I hate to leave in the autumn, but I would not like to live in my paradise for a whole year. There has always been a feeling of free spirit about Sherkin, which is essential to my way of life and my work."

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Though we're told that the happiest people in the world live in Denmark, Havemann isn't sure. "Danes complain a lot and, most of the time, over nothing. But they are fairly straight and have a good sense of humour."

Claus doesn't complain and his love of Ireland has resulted in his giving, in the year that's in it, this large and strikingly impressive oil-on-canvas portrait, titled 1916, to the nation. Tusind tak (a thousand thanks). It now hangs in Richmond Barracks in Dublin where over 3,000 suspected rebels, including 77 women, were taken following the Rising. This multiple portrait, painted in two to three weeks, includes de Valera, Jennie Wyse Power [in whose house the Proclamation was signed], Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, May Gibney [who spent Easter Week in the GPO], Countess Markiewicz, Margaret Skinnider [a sniper during the Easter Rising and the only woman wounded in action], Joseph Mary Plunkett, Parnell, revolutionaries, visionaries, feminists. "Some are iconic, some less well-known, especially the women, who played vitally important roles in the uprising; it was an opportunity to put those women up there with the men."

And why the nine figures? It's his favourite number.

Claus hopes he's captured "at least some of the spirit of each of the people depicted". Collins looks determined and intense, Parnell, stern and august. "I think I like Michael Collins the best. Countess Markiewicz was the most difficult, her eyes were difficult to read. She seemed to me to be withdrawn." He's not sure if he's captured de Valera's complexity. In this riveting work, he only has eyes for you. But his eye is on them all.

Top row, from left to right, is de Valera, Jennie Wyse Power, Arthur Griffith. Middle is Michael Collins, May Gibney, Countess Markiewicz. And bottom is Margaret Skinnider, Joseph Mary Plunkett, Charles Stewart Parnell

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