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PAINTINGS 1950 - 1960

S. B. Kennedy



Anne Madden is of Irish and Anglo-Chilean origin. She spent her early childhood in Chile before coming to Ireland with her Parents, who later settled in London. As a child she was impressed by the skills of a young Chinese calligrapher and this determined in her the desire to pursue painting as a career. In 1950 she entered the Chelsea School of Art in London. However, she found the instruction offered there to be strictly traditional, almost no account being being taken of the revolutionary developments that had preoccupied avant-garde art in the previous half century. But in the mid-1950's in London she saw an exhibition of recent American painting, with a strong representation of Abstract Expressionism, and this had a profound influence on her at the time. The new painting 'opened up vistas of possibility', she recalled many years later, and she was notably attracted to the work of Sam Francis and the French-Canadian Jean-Paul Riopelle, artists who became personal friends in later years. Her Aran Field, 1957, and Blue Landscape, 1958, both of which were exhibited at her first one-woman exhibition, held at the Leicester Galleries, London, in 1959, illustrate the influence respectively of Riopelle and Francis on her early work.


Meadow with Sun, 1958 - Aran Field, 1957 - Blue Landscape, 1958

Her development as an artist, however, was interrupted by a series of spinal operations and it was only following her marriage to Louis le Brocquy that she was able to paint again in a sustained manner.
During her adolescent years Anne Madden lived for a time in the west of Ireland, near the Burren in County Clare. The rugged landscape of the rock-strewn area greatly excited her and, later, with the liberating example of Abstract Expressionism in mind, she began to make pictures, essentially landscapes, but which are in essence abstract compositions. The resulting works, the best of which date from the early 1960's - Slievecarran, 1963 (Ulster Museum) and Land Near Kilnaboy, 1964 (An Chomhairle Ealaion, Dublin) are supreme examples - are her first important paintings. Despite their abstraction, these pictures evoke a sense of history and of the indestructibility of nature; they have an amplitude and grandeur borne by their rough granite-like-surface - she mixed sand and grit with the paint in many of these compositions - rendered, as the critic Dorothy Walker has noted, 'with superb nervous verve' in an almost monochromatic palette limited to greys, pinks and the occasional touch of red or violet. By the late 1960's, however, in compositions such as Big Red Mountain Sequence, 1967 (Trinity College, Dublin / An Chomhairle Ealaion), colour became an important element in her work.


Land near Kilnaboy, 1964 - Big Red Mountain Sequence, 1967

Madden's compositions, while still abstract, now became more architecturally structured as she worked on a series of paintings derived from megaliths and other prehistoric monuments which litter the landscape in Ireland.

Self-Portrait, 1950