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Nevill Johnson, British, 1911 - 1999
Title: Byrne’s Pub
Date: c.1942-1945
Medium: Oil on canvas
45.7 x 62.2 cm
Signed: lower right: NJ [in monogram]
Credit Line: Presented, Friends of the National Gallery of Ireland (Patrons of Irish Art Funds), 2016
Object Number: NGI.2016.23
DescriptionThis is one of the earliest extant paintings by Johnson. Kilkeel Shipyard (Down County Museum) dates from 1943 and Linescape from 1945, but most of his work from this period has disappeared or been destroyed by the artist. Byrne's pub is also one of a small number of paintings by Johnson that relate specifically to Dublin. The scene depicts a terraced house. Its front door is open; a stout bottle sits on the hall-floor, while an abandoned doll is flopped face down on the doorstep. In a neighbouring street, a pub bears the sign 'Byrne'. Angular shadows connect the pub and the house. Lit by artificial light the scene is dark and the mood oppressive. Johnson hints at the damaging effects of alcohol upon domestic life in contemporary Ireland. In this way, the painting prefigures his photographic work and highlights his particular role, as an outside observer. Johnson's work draws directly from European modernism and in particular the work of Picasso, Dali, Tanguy and de Chirico. The influence of Expressionist theatre is apparent, as is his wider engagement with the politics and psychology of the post-war world.
Exhibition HistoryNevill Johnson (1911-1999). Fiftieth Anniversary of the Photography of Dublin, Lemon Street Gallery, Dublin, October 1999

Nevill Johnson, A Retrospective Exhibition, Ava Gallery, Bangor, Co. Down, 2008

The Moderns, IMMA, 2010-2011, cat.81

The Language of Dreams, Crawford Gallery, Cork, October 2015 - February 2016
Label TextThis is one of the earliest paintings by Johnson, who trained in Belfast under John Luke in the evenings while making brake linings during the day. The picture is clearly designed to confound and unsettle. The inclusion of a discarded doll and a bottle points, perhaps, to the damaging effects of alcohol upon domestic life in Ireland. The tilting of planes and distortion of space indicates that Johnson was familiar with European Modernism, and the work of Picasso, Dali, Tanguy and de Chirico in particular.