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PORTRAITS OF IRISH PATRIOTS BY OLIVER SHEPPARD, 1865–1941 JOHN TURPIN irish political life in the early twentieth century saw immense changes. As manifested by the cultural revival and by political and revolutionary movements, Irish national self-assertion had an impact on the sculpture of the period. In a series of seven portrait busts, made between 1904 and 1939, Oliver Sheppard portrayed some of the key Wgures in Irish life. This series of patriotic portrait busts is a memorial and testimony to certain Irishmen who were participants in that change, either as thinkers or men of action . Oliver Sheppard (1865–1941) was born in Dublin where he attended the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art from 1884 to 1888 and attended, on scholarship, the National Art Training School, South Kensington, London , from 1888 to 1891. He completed his education in Paris and returned to England to teach modeling in Leicester and Nottingham. During the late 1890s Sheppard sent work back regularly to Ireland for exhibition and, Wnally, in 1902 he returned permanently as teacher of modeling to his former school. He became one of Ireland’s best-known sculptors and received many commissions, especially in the years before World War I. He was the principal sculptor to draw inspiration from the Irish Revival. From the mid-nineteenth century on, two of the most important movements which inXuenced the tradition of Irish nationalism were the Young Ireland movement, with its call for separate cultural identity, and the Fenian movement, with its call for establishing an Irish republic by violent means. John O’Leary (1830–1907) was one of the links between the Fenian movement and the new revolutionary tendencies of the early twentieth century.1 O’Leary had been editor of the Irish People, a Dublin Fenian journal. For PORTRAITS OF IRISH PATRIOTS BY OLIVER SHEPPARD, 1865–1941 134 1 For a biographical note on Sheppard and all the portrait subjects, see Henry Boylan, A Dictionary of Irish Biography (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1978), and also Jeanne Sheehy, The Rediscovery of Ireland’s Past: The Celtic Revival 1830–1930 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1980), pp. 183–84. his revolutionary opinions he was condemned to twenty years imprisonment but was released after nine years and banished. He lived in Paris and, eventually, returned to Ireland in 1885. O’Leary’s contact with the young and impressionable W. B. Yeats provided an important impetus for the literary revival. In his poem “To John O’Leary,” Yeats had written: “Because you loved the nobler part / Of Erin; so we bring you here / Words such as once the Nation’s heart / On patriotic lips rejoiced to hear.” O’Leary’s importance was recognized by Hugh Lane, who commissioned John Butler Yeats, the poet’s father, to paint a portrait of him as one of a series of portraits of prominent Irishmen, and this was completed in 1904. Perhaps inXuenced by W. B. Yeats, Sheppard came to know O’Leary and decided to model a bust of him; it does not appear to have been commissioned . Writing in 1937, a journalist recorded that “John O’Leary who was [Sheppard’s] intimate friend sat for him, and on completion of the Wgure presented him with books and pamphlets of his, namely ‘Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism’ [1896] and ‘What Irishmen Should Know’ [1886], aVectionately autographed.”2 Sheppard was an active member of the Gaelic Society at the School of Art. Largely inspired by cultural arguments , Sheppard was committed to Irish self-determination, and O’Leary’s cultured literary sense of Ireland’s historic destiny would have appealed to him. On May 19, 1903, O’Leary wrote to Sheppard from 17 Temple Street, Dublin, saying that he would “be happy to sit for [him],” but that there were problems about time and “the state of [his] health.” Sitting began in May and continued in August and November. The portrait bust was probably completed in a plaster cast by early 1904; on January 11, 1905, O’Leary complained: “You seem to have forgotten all about that copy of my bust. I hope however, to see it sometime sooner or later.”3 The plaster cast was exhibited at the Royal Hibernian...


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