Shuffling into the graceful Georgian townhouse attached to the National Gallery, one is left wonder if the beautiful rooms of the gallery are what has inspired its curators and staff to put on such wonderful exhibitions in the past; exhibitions focusing on anything from the crystal clear works of Vermeer and his contemporaries, to hazy, misty vibrant Turner watercolours. It is those glorious watercolours that draw attention to the bubble of excitement in the air, what treats, what fantasms of colour and artistic spirit has the gallery pulled and organised to delight the public with for the coming year.
The press manager welcomed guests warmly and pulled curators of the upcoming exhibitions to speak to guests. Catherine Sheridan spoke of the “Voyage of Italy” that she had curated for the cold and dreary months at the start of next year. The exhibition is possible thanks to the incredible bequest of Denis Mahon. He gifted his library and archive to the gallery, and to mark the completion of the cataloguing of the library the gallery will be showcasing Italian travel guidebooks to cities of the Italian ‘grand tour’ from the 1500s to the 1800s.
Curator Donal Maguire spoke about the exhibition ‘Shaping Ireland’. This looks at the artist’s interpretation of Ireland’s changing landscape. This led to one of the central themes that can be found in the upcoming year’s exhibitions, which is a push on the gallery’s behalf to include more contemporary works and mediums. To work those in alongside their collection of old masterpieces and fine art. Moving on through the crowd Sinead Kathy Rice, the head of education, speaks about the incredible programmes they run and offer to the public to continue to cultivate a love of art among their visitors of all ages and interest. She mentions how education has always been a huge part of the gallery’s mission, and about their current efforts to ensure that this stays up to date and continues to offer people a unique and wonderful experience
It was hard to avoid having your attention drawn to the front of the room where the museum’s director, Sean Rainbird, goes through each of the exhibitions and what they will entail. He speaks about the major firsts for the gallery that are approaching, a photography show, the likes of which they have never done before and the first ever display of Sorolla’s large format canvases in Ireland. Catherine Griffin, who is head of public engagement at the gallery, speaks about the gallery’s current projects they are running, for example a newly expanded series of presentations, and discussions with OUTing the Past (the Educational Festival of Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Trans History), as well as their new Thursday Late events which features tours, nail art and much more to bring new visitors to the gallery and to get them engaged in all that the gallery has to offer.
As the evening drew to a close it was difficult to not notice the warm and engaging director of the gallery, Sean Rainbird. Speaking to him about where he feels the gallery is going and what role the 2019 exhibitions play in that journey what was clear was the passion of everyone who works in the gallery. They care deeply about working to offer world-class exhibitions with a phenomenal range of works. Rainbird himself said that “We hope that people enjoy the experience of the gallery, as well as it educating people. That’s really been the gallery’s mission since the very first day.” They aim to delight and educate the public, and to do this in a way that suits the modern eye and viewpoint, that meld the traditional narrative style exhibitions with the social commentary that modern audiences are intrigued by.