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Book Tickets

Date: 1 Mon 6 Jun 2022
Date: 2 Mon 15 Aug 2022
Time: 06|06|22 - 15|08|22
Price: Free

Exhibition run from 06|06|22 - 15|08|22

Daniel O’Neill – Coming Home

Daniel O’Neill, or ‘Dan’ as he was known to his friends, was born on 21st January 1920 in Dimsdale Street in West Belfast. He started painting with watercolours at the age of 15 and, when possible, spent all his spare time in the Belfast Reference Library studying the Renaissance painters. Mostly self-taught, he briefly attended life classes at the Belfast College of Art and was tutored by the painter Sidney Smith at his studio in Howard Street where he was allowed the use of brushes and materials. Tall and handsome, he enjoyed the company of women and this is reflected in his subject matter throughout his life. During World War II, he worked as an electrical engineer in various jobs doing the night shift so he could paint during the day. He continued this pattern of working nights and painting by day for another four years but sold very few paintings. In the early 1940s, he married Eileen Lyle and met artists Markey Robinson, Gerard Dillon, brothers George and Arthur Campbell, Colin Middleton, Nevill Johnson and John Turner, who exhibited with him in Belfast. Living and working in the small village of Conlig in Co. Down, he was often joined by George Campbell and Gerard Dillon who held a joint show with him in Dublin at the Contemporary Picture Galleries in 1943. On his visits to Dublin he was a frequent visitor to Nano Reid’s flat which was a drop-in centre for like-minded painters and writers to discuss literature and art.


In 1945 at the age of 25 he was offered a gallery contract with Victor Waddington who at that time ran the leading gallery in Dublin specializing in contemporary art. His association with Waddington was to continue until 1970. The contract guaranteed a steady income and enabled O’Neill to give up his demanding schedule working as an electrician. Following the success of his first solo show in 1946, Waddington organized O’Neill to be included in group shows with his friends Gerard Dillon and George Campbell in Ireland, the UK and North America, which also included artists Colin Middleton and Nevill Johnson. In the post-war years, he also became friends with a younger group of Belfast artists, James MacIntyre, Arthur Armstrong, T.P. Flanagan and Basil Blackshaw. In 1948, with Waddington’s support, O’Neill travelled to Paris to visit the major galleries and see the Renaissance painters and the Impressionists. The trip was a revelation to him and on his return home, his paintings in his 1949 exhibition at Waddington Galleries were transformed. His romantic images combined with textured paint effects were applauded by the critics which led to increased demand for his work.


The six-month visit to Paris also saw a more confident man, wearing a black cape and fedora hat, striding through the streets of Belfast. His 6'2"-tall stature cut a dramatic figure in Belfast’s conservative society causing suspicion with the authorities but attracting the attention of younger artists who held discussions on his painting techniques. His work of the 1940s reveals his wife, Eileen, as his muse, and his treatment of universal themes remained popular with the buying public. His self-confidence, however, did not last long. Absences from home led to the collapse of his marriage and O’Neill struggled with feelings of guilt for the break-up of his family for most of his life. Between 1950-51 the artist suffered a personal crisis and lost the will to paint. A new relationship and a retrospective exhibition at the Belfast Museum Gallery in 1952, organized by CEMA with Victor Waddington’s support, shifted him out of his crisis. By 1953 he was living near Tyrella Beach, Co. Down, with his partner, Sheilagh Deacon, where he completed a number of beach and harvest scenes. His pictures continued to be included in the annual Dublin shows: the Royal Hibernian Academy, Oireachtas Art Exhibition, and the Irish Exhibition of Living Art until 1956. In 1952 he held a solo exhibition in London at Arthur Tooth’s gallery and two years later, in 1954, shared an exhibition with Colin Middleton at the same gallery. He was annually represented by Tooth’s in their Today and Yesterday exhibitions until the end of the 1950s, and recognition for his work resulted in the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia, the Suter Art Gallery in New Zealand, and the Laing Art Gallery in England adding his work to their collections.


In 1958 Daniel O’Neill moved to London with his new partner, Maureen Boyce O’Neill, where he was to remain for twelve years. When Victor Waddington moved to London in 1957, his focus remained on abstract modernists and the St Ives painters, and he sent O’Neill’s work to his brother George Waddington’s gallery in Montreal where O’Neill held a number of successful solo shows to a new international audience. Not long after he arrived in London, O’Neill discovered acrylic paint, but his subjects of land, sea and sky point to a man missing home. He struggled to settle in London and during these years he lost the impetus he had shown in the 1940s and 50s – although he did hold two successful solo exhibitions in Dublin in 1960 and 1963. From the mid-1960s, however, his work was little seen and he became increasingly unfamiliar in his native city. During the conflict in Northern Ireland, O’Neill returned to Belfast to be close to his family and held an exhibition there in 1970, his first one-man show in his native city for eighteen years. In 1971, he held his final solo exhibition in Dublin, and his last paintings were shown in a group exhibition in Belfast in December 1973. Sadly, on 9th March 1974, O’Neill’s life was unexpectedly cut short at the age of 54.

This exhibition is the artist’s first exhibition in Belfast in 35 years. His works are included in the collections of the following galleries in Ireland: the National Gallery of Ireland, IMMA, Ulster Museum, Crawford Art Gallery, Waterford Municipal Art Gallery, Limerick University, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, Queen’s University Belfast, and Down County Museum.