In the swim

Brian Fallon takes a renewed look at the work of Veronica Bolay, whose West of Ireland landscapes are among her strongest work

Veronica Bolay (1941-2020) Billy Played and Laura Sang oil on canvas 100 x 100cm


Veronica Bolay, the German-born artist who died in Dublin in 2020 in her late seventies, had been a respected, but often overlooked, painter for several decades. It would be untrue to say that she was ignored, but she made few or no headlines. Her work was generally sensitive and accomplished – especially her pastels, a medium in which she had few rivals in this country. A late flowering, however, brought a new mastery of oil paints, joined to a special, personalised relationship with the landscape of the West of Ireland, where she eventually moved and which became, in effect, the dominant theme of her work.

That landscape forms the backbone of a remarkable exhibition now on view in Dublin Castle, no less, presented by the Paul Kane Gallery in association with the Office of Public Works. This represents – for me at least, who knew Bolay well in her Dublin years – something quite novel and unexpected in her career. While the exhibition shows the unforced originality of her late style, the large and handsome catalogue adds a sustained verbal commentary which traces her life (remarkable in several ways) over decades, mainly in her own words. In effect, it forms a kind of compressed autobiography, which counterpoints the reproductions of her later work.

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