Although he is mostly associated with Achill Island and Connemara, Paul Henry rarely visited that part of Ireland after he settled in Dublin in 1919. But the 1920s were a difficult and unsettled period for him, and it was not until the late twenties, after his move to County Wicklow, that his fortunes improved. The decade of the thirties, during which time he paid several visits to County Kerry - he first went there in 1933 - was altogether happier for him and we see this change reflected in his work through a lighter mood and brighter palette. From now on his landscapes become less monumental, more spontaneous in execution - 'Achill,' he once commented, 'had an intimacy that is not so marked in Connemara or Kerry' (P. Henry, 'An Artist's Ireland', Irish Travel, August 1941) - and have a greater degree of freshness.
A Showery Day on the Bog was probably painted in the spring of 1941 when Paul Henry and Mabel Young, who later became his second wife, took a holiday in Killarney. The trip was most fruitful for the artist and almost his entire exhibition of Recent Paintings, held at Combridge's in Dublin the following Autumn, resulted from it. Henry was clearly at the top of his form at the time and revelled in the landscape around him. 'What always strikes me about the Irish landscape,' he later told the critic H.L. Morrow, 'is its otherworldliness. There's an air of mystery about it ... [you feel] that anything may happen round the corner' something that he ascribed to the unsettled weather so characteristic of the west of Ireland (H.L. Morrow, 'The Art of Paul Henry', Irish Times, 1 November 1941, p. 5). It was a point he had made in January 1941 in an essay he wrote for The Listener. 'When I say a "good day"'- that is for painting - he noted, 'I don't mean one which begins and ends in cloudless weather, but one with showers and sunshine - which we call "broken weather": that is when Ireland looks her best' (P. Henry, 'Painting in Ireland', The Listener, January 1941, p. 129). All of these qualities shine through in A Showery Day on the Bog. The composition has a sense of stillness, an absence of people, yet with the cut turf stacked to dry there is an omnipresent awareness of human activity, another prominent 'Henry' characteristic. The soft, dark nature of the terrain is keenly felt, the bog 'lonely, mysterious, intriguing, tender, entrancing,' to quote Henry's own feelings for it, 'the smell of the newly turned turf ... scenting the air with its pungent odours ... the little pools of silvery water reflecting the colour of the sky' (P. Henry, quoted in 'Through Patricia's Eyes', Model Housekeeping, late 1930s or early 1940s).
In compositions such as this, Paul Henry showed the west of Ireland truly as it was in his time. He was the first artist to shed such a realisitic light on what was then a wild and desolate region, and in his sombre colouring and vivid blues his pictures perfectly capture the atmosphere and stark barrenness of the area. Henry opens our eyes to the grandeur of nature, but (as here) it is in his massed cloud effects that he gives the most realistic picture of all, for his clouds are vibrant, they appear to move as we look at them, they contain life and are the real glory of his pictures.
There is a label on the reverse of A Showery day on the Bog with the name of its previous owner, Henry L. Shattuck (1879-1971), a prominent Bostonian collector of Paul Henry's work, who in 1926 donated the artist's A Mountain Village to the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. A Showery Day on the Bog was issued as a colour print by Combridge's, Dublin, in the early 1940s. The title, A Showery Day on the Bog, is inscribed on the reverse.
We are very grateful to Dr. Brian Kennedy for preparing the catalogue entries for lots 65, 67-68 and 78-80.