In 1946 an exhibition of Daniel O'Neill's works was shown at the Victor Waddington Gallery, Dublin, with an impressive twenty-one out of twenty-three pictures sold. His name was made and he was regularly to exhibit and sell his work through the gallery until 1969, when he met George McClelland, the Belfast dealer, who became his new patron.
In Seafaring Men, a striking early work, we are presented with three figures against a brooding backdrop of dark water and luminous sky. The fishermen, rugged local men in work clothes, face us as the play of light and shade as dusk crosses them. This typically strong composition and atmospheric lighting give the work an emotional intensity that his later more colourful works can lack. Liam Kelly of The University of Ulster described this quality in his work as the 'imaginative, often haunting, melancholic interaction between figure and environment, mood and circumstance' (see The Hunter Gatherer: The Collection of George and Maura McClelland at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, London, 2005, p. 54).
He was largely self-taught and, in 1995, Susan Stairs commented of O'Neill and his contemporaries that 'although, part of a group as such, each managed to follow their own fiercely independent line of thinking. This can be attributed to their lack of formal training. We must be grateful that O'Neill got to himself before instruction did. For if it were not so, it is unlikely that Ireland would have produced a painter of such sensual, sensitive, soulful and profound work. He is one of our greatest painters' (see 'A Sense of the Forlorn: Daniel O'Neill', Fortnight, 307, June 1992, p. 16.
O'Neill maintained, when asked, that he painted landscapes with people in them and (as in the present example) painted people in landscapes. It is this very discovery of the extraordinary in the ordinary that makes his art so enduringly appealing.