Portraits of an activist

Portraits of an activist
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Sarah Cecilia Harrison (1863–1941) Prodigal Son as Swineherd c.1878-1885 (detail) oil on canvas 85 x 90cm


Margarita Cappock and Hannah Baker review works from the oeuvre of artist Sarah Cecilia Harrison

‘Artist and friend of the poor’ – this succinct inscription on the grave of Sarah Cecilia Harrison (1863–1941) in Mount Jerome Cemetery captures the life of a woman whose contribution to the political and cultural fabric of Dublin has, until recently, been largely overlooked. Her achievements are many – as an artist, an activist and social campaigner, and as the first woman elected as a councillor to Dublin Corporation in 1912. She campaigned tirelessly to improve living and working conditions for Dublin’s poor, including better-quality housing and access to food. Her passion for the rights of women meant that she was a key activist in the Irish suffrage movement. Furthermore, Harrison strove to provide access to internationally renowned modern art for all Dublin’s citizens, believing that these were all compatible aspirations. To this end, she worked with the Irish art dealer, collector and connoisseur Hugh Lane (1875–1915) on his campaign to establish a gallery of modern art in Dublin. What is truly remarkable about Harrison is that she was a very talented artist, who maintained a thriving portrait practice whilst achieving so much in many other domains.

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