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Picturing the People

In the Lion’s Den; Daniel Macdonald, Ireland and Empire, by Niamh O’Sullivan, Quinnipiac University Press, 2016 When Niamh O’Sullivan published Aloysius O’Kelly; Art Nation, Empire in 2010 she threw down a gauntlet to all writers of art history in Ireland through the depth of research and analysis she was prepared to bring to her subject. The task required her to delve into the archives of the Illustrated London News and other illustrated journals of the second half of the nineteenth century, material which she has been able to put to good use again in her role as curator of Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at the University of Quinnipiac. At that time her work on the Illustrated London News alone would have merited a dedicated book. O’Sullivan, however, had taken on far more than that. In looking at the career and work of Aloysius O’Kelly (c 1853-1936) she was faced with a family background of artists and revolutionaries, members of the Fenian movement, connections to the Land League and a sibling elected as an MP for Roscommon, not to mention the artist’s own role as embedded journalist in the wars of the Mahdi against British imperial authority in Egypt and the Sudan in the early 1880s. Most difficult of all for a researcher were O’Kelly’s frequent changes of name and identity as he ducked and dodged the scrutiny of the anti-Fenian establishment while continuing to work and exhibit in Ireland, Paris, Brittany, London and New York. It took years just to establish the date and whereabouts of his death because of his various aliases and the picaresque careers of family members, but where others had shied away, O’Sullivan battled on, adding a wealth of knowledge and research to the history of Ireland and England and providing a new gloss on orientalist studies. The result, on that occasion, was a magisterial book that moved effortlessly between art history, orientalism, colonial studies and detective work that involved archives in different countries and different languages. No other work of Irish art history before or since has managed to meet that level of scholarly detection and breadth. Did she know, then, when she turned to her most recent project – In the Lion’s Den, Daniel Macdonald, Ireland and Empire ‑ that she would have another multi-faceted mystery story on her hands? The facts about Daniel Macdonald as assembled by Walter Strickland, later by Anne Crookshank and the Knight of Glin and most recently…

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