Sunday 21 October 2018

What Lies Beneath: Sabina Coyne Higgins at the Races

Sabina Coyne Higgins at the Races by Valerie Walsh, Jolley Acrylic on paper, courtesy of the artist

Sabina Coyne Higgins at the Races by Valerie Walsh,
Sabina Coyne Higgins at the Races by Valerie Walsh,

Niall MacMonagle

One of artist Valerie Walsh Jolley's earliest works was a painting in powder paint on grey sugar paper, called Flight into Egypt. She was seven.

"Always fascinated by the crib at Christmas," the artist found Biblical themes came naturally to her. Her Cork childhood included trips to the Opera House, London art galleries and, while studying at the Crawford, summers were spent working in New York where she discovered Picasso at the Guggenheim.

Other influences include Pauline Bewick, Martin Finnan, Colin Middleton, Suzy O'Mullane, Syra Larkin.

During her final year at college, Walsh Jolley came first in Ireland for portraiture, has the silver medal to prove it and then taught art at secondary level for 20 years where "I tried to give them a love of art for life. Some brilliant students went on to do art; some characters are still in my heart today".

She still does portraits, "particularly of women", and a striking theme is the glass ceiling: "I study women in everyday situations, file them in my head and particularly like the interaction between mother and baby and fashionable women who juggle babies and corporate positions."

Walsh Jolley believes that men still get jobs over women and she quotes Christine Lagarde, lawyer, politician, first female managing director of the International Monetary Fund, mother and smasher of glass ceilings: "There is definitely still a glass ceiling. It's not going away. And I think it's everybody's mission to make sure that it does."

This Walsh Jolley painting was prompted by a photograph of Sabina Coyne Higgins at the Irish Derby.

In this portrait, Sabina Coyne Higgins is on her own, she's her own woman. Elegantly dressed, she stands tall, poised, against the dramatic, loud backdrop of those thundering hooves racing past the Winner sign. "I see her as a theatrical and cultured person. She is interested in and supportive of the arts."

Why the couple with the little baby and dog? "I also see Sabina Coyne Higgins as a mother, comforting and kind, and the mother and baby symbolise that. And the dog is a sign of fidelity. Like myself, she loves dogs."

And the portrait made its way to the Aras. Walsh Jolley and her husband were "highly entertained" by the President and Sabina Coyne Higgins in the green drawing room "with a silver teapot and tea cups that Queen Victoria once drank from".

Beautiful Audrey Hepburn wore Cecil Beaton black and white to the races but, losing the run of herself at Ascot, roared at the poor horse, "Come on, Dover!!! Move your bloomin' arse!!!"

This fair lady, Sabina Coyne Higgins, also in black and white, keeps her cool at the Curragh.

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