The only painting known to depict a scene from The Great Hunger will feature in a new exhibition opening this week at Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University.
The show, “In the Lion’s Den: Daniel MacDonald, Ireland and Empire,” will feature the work of artist Daniel MacDonald, whose painting “An Irish Peasant Family Discovering the Blight of their Store” is the one known painting done on the topic of the famine, which devastated Ireland from 1845-1852.
Grace Brady, the executive director of the museum, told the New Haven Register: “So to have that travel from Ireland to here is a big deal for us, not only as a museum but to be able to show it to the public along with the other works by MacDonald.
“He died young and not much is known about him.”
A book on MacDonald with “new research into his work and his history” by museum curator Niamh O’Sullivan will accompany the exhibition.
The show will feature 21 paintings and sketches coming in from various locations, including the National Folklore Collection at University College Dublin and some private collectors.
The museum owns two of the works, “Irish Peasant Children” and “Irish Returning From a Funeral.”
Brady said she expects a great response from visitors.
“Since there’s not much known about him, it’s the first show in America and the most sort of comprehensive ever mounted of this artist anywhere, even in Ireland,” she said.
The works in the collection depict everyday Irish life in the 19th century.
“He was a great observer of everyday Irish life whereas some artists or illustrators sort of made fun of the Irish, the negative stereotypes of the Irish being lazy or drinkers or things like that,” Brady said. “MacDonald didn’t do that; he depicted the Irish in everyday life, whether they were working or at school or going to Mass ... not in a derogatory or negative light.”
Speaking of the art museum’s historical mission, she said: “The Irish get accolades for music and playwright and writing, but you don’t hear as much about the visual artists,” said Brady. “And this museum is trying to show that there is a great amount of past and present Irish artists that are worthy of museum settings and what they’re covering in their work.”
Brady said the museum has acquired about 10 additional works since she started three years ago.
“We like to say we’re trying to tell the long story: pre-famine, famine and post-famine; doing so with Irish artists working at the time as well as Irish-American artists. So it’s a work in progress.”
For more information visit ighm.org or call 203-582-6500.