Recognized in her native country as one of the first cubists, Mainie Jellett spent her lifetime promoting and defining modernism for the Irish public. She is often cited as the leader of the modern movement in Ireland between the two World Wars and was heard from frequently via published articles, radio interviews, public meetings, and exhibitions.

As a child, Jellett studied drawing and painting in Dublin and then went on to Westminster School in London. She furthered her studies in Paris where she and her friend, Evie Hone, took classes from Andre Lhote. The women worked from live models and adopted Lhote's approach of using the lines suggested by the figure as the pattern for constructing a composition. This kind of academic cubism proposed reducing form to simple shapes and then integrating those into a geometric pattern.

After working with Lhote for a year, Jellett felt the need to stretch beyond his thinking and sought out nonrepresentational painter Alfred Gleizes who taught a more abstract approach to cubism. She and Hone worked with Gleizes for a number of months every  year from 1922 until 1931. Clearly inspired to be working in a completely abstract manner, Jellett absorbed Gleizes' philosophy and his ideas of "translation and rotation." Early work from this period involved a single compositional element; later Jellett used two or four elements. In the 1920s, she compartmentalized the composition into eight or ten components.

Jellett's work reflects the influences of both Gleizes and Lhote but ultimately remains specifically hers. She hoped her work would reveal the inner rhythms and constructions of natural forms. With the single vertical element, Nude could be a very abstracted Madonna figure. Both Jellett and Hone relied on their religious background for subject matter. Jellett also had a keen interest in Renaissance painting, which she often reinterpreted in a cubist fashion. In Nude one can clearly determine the figurative core of the work that she then built on, moving outward to the decorative framed edges. Abstract is divided into four components involving more complicated shapes that shift and rotate. Jellett uses contrasting colors and decorative patterning to distinguish each area from the others. The layered background serves to incorporate each element.

In 1923 Jellett introduced her cubist painting to the Dublin art community. The conservative audience, who had little exposure to modernist styles, was less than receptive. The response did not dissuade Jellett from painting and a year later she and Hone had a joint exhibition. In 1925 exhibitions of Jellett's painting in London and Paris won her high praise. Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s Jellett continued to show her modernist canvases in Ireland, despite negative, even hostile responses. It wasn't until the mid-1930s that Irish critics began to recognize Jellett for her important, progressive work. Today Jellett's work is included in the permanent collections of most major institutions in Ireland.

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Mainie Jellett (1897 - 1944) Ireland



c. 1920’s, gouache on paper, 10” x 8”