Paul Henry Irish Artist

Welcome to this month’s Oil Painting Blog for Beginners, our first for 2023.

This month in the spirit of the overwhelming success of ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’, we had to look at the life and artwork of Paul Henry, another artist who helped make the Irish cottage and our western landscape a national and international sensation.

An incredible feat for a man who was later described as having red-green colour blindness [1].

This wasn’t public knowledge and was only revealed by his doctor at a retrospective exhibition of his work in 1973, some 15 years after his death and it was understood by Ian Whyte of Whyte’s Auctioneers that his wives, Grace Henry and later Mabel Young, both artists in their own right, used to mix his palette for him. [2] Some say there is a slight change in his paintings between the two wives.

Who was Paul Henry (1876 – 1958)

Paul Henry portrait by Grace Henry

Paul Henry
(1898 – 1900)
By Grace Henry

Ulster Museum
(©National Museums NI)

Arguably one of the most influential Irish landscape artists of the twentieth century, Henry was born in Belfast, to a Baptist minister, the Revd Robert Mitchell Henry and his wife Kate Ann Berry.

While it was noted that he had a strict upbringing [3], it might not have been all that bad, given that, he began to draw in pencil and watercolour at the age of four, even before entering kindergarten at Methodist College, Belfast. [4]

Initially, after leaving school, Henry apprenticed with a Belfast linen firm [5], until he decided to train as an artist.

Key Influencers in Paul Henry’s Life

In 1895, he attended the Belfast School of Art, then later in 1898, he travelled to Paris to train at the Académie Julian and then at the Académie Carman, a newer school of art, where the American artist James Abbot McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903) was a tutor.

Paul Henry- Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea

Blue and Silver – Chelsea

James Abbott McNeill

Bequeathed by Miss Rachel and Miss Jean Alexander (1972)
Tate Britain, London

Paul Henry- Symphony in Grey: Early Morning, Thames

Symphony in Grey:
Early Morning, Thames
James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Freer Gallery of Art

Paul Henry Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 (Whistlers Mother)

Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1
(Whistlers Mother)
James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Whistler’s method of painting and use of close tones over colour, made a massive impression on Henry and his future artwork, especially, his paintings of the west of Ireland, including Achill, Connemara and Kerry, and in particular the painting Dawn, Killary Harbour. [6]

Paul Henry - Dawn, Killary Harbour

Dawn, Killary Harbour
Paul Henry

Ulster Museum (©National Museums NI)

Henry was also influenced by the work of Jean-François Millet (1814 – 1875), the Barbizon painter of French peasant life.

Gleaners (1857) Jean-Francois Millet

Jean-Francois Millet

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

This influence is very apparent, when Henry began to paint the daily activities of the inhabitants of Achill Island, just off County Mayo on the west coast of Ireland where he and his wife Emily Grace Henry (nee Mitchell married in 1903 and eight years his senior), holidayed (1910 – 12) and subsequently lived until 1919. [7]

Paul Henry - the potato diggers

The Potato Diggers
Paul Henry

National Gallery of Ireland

Paul Henry - launching the curragh

Launching the Curragh
(1910 – 1911)
Paul Henry

National Gallery of Ireland

Initially, his artwork included people. However, in later years, he was more inclined to paint the landscape, typically, a mountain, lake, some cottages, and a large cloud-filled sky, all in a post-impressionist style. [8]

Paul Henry - lakeside cottage

Lakeside Cottage

The Hugh Lane Gallery

Paul Henry’s Later Years

In 1919, the Henry’s moved back to Dublin, and set up the Society of Dublin Painters.

Henry also joined the United Arts Club in Dublin, was elected to a full member of the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin in 1928 and in 1930, became one of the first twelve academicians of the Ulster Academy of Arts. [9]

In 1924, while Grace was travelling in Europe, he met and had an affair with Mabel Young (1889 – 1974) another fellow artist.

The Henry’s marriage subsequently ended with a separation. Henry and Young moved to Co. Wicklow and in 1953, after Grace’s death, they both married.

Five years later, 1958, Henry died, at his home in Bray, Co. Wicklow. [10]

Henry’s works can be found in the collections of the National Gallery of Ireland, Hugh Lane Gallery, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Ulster Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris. [11]

Paul Henry - Achill Landscape (1910-12)

Achill Landscape

Tate, London

I hope you enjoyed this month’s oil painting blog, our 30th to date.

Over the coming year, we hope to be looking at other contemporaries of Paul Henry including Hugh Lane, Jack B Yates, Laetitia Hamilton, Mary Swanzy and Harry Clarke.

Next month, we will be looking at another Irish Artist, their artwork and painting style.

If anyone is looking to learn to paint like some of the old masters, why not join us this Spring / Summer in the studio.

The workshops are kept to a minimum of 4-5 persons, and I’ll be on hand to guide you through the steps involved for each painting. We also have gift vouchers available for you or a loved one, for our Saturday Beginners Workshop, and our one-to-one consultations, the latter, being by appointment.

Until next month, we wish you nothing but the very best of wishes.

February 2023

* As always, I am not affiliated with any brands, stores, or persons I may or may not mention and your use of any of these products, links and the like are your own risk and it’s up to you to do your research/homework before you use them. This is just my opinion and experience.

[1] M F Marmour ‘Vision, eye disease, and Art: 2015 Keeler Lecture’ 13 November. Eye30 (2): 287–303; >accessed 01/02/2023

[2] E Flegg, ‘Treasures: Wedded to a life of colour’ Independent (Dublin, 08 June 2018) >accessed 31/01/2023

[3] B. P. Kennedy, Irish Painting (Town House and Country House 1993), p.35

[4] C. Dauphin, ‘Paul Henry’ Dictionary of Irish Biography, October 2009,>accessed 31/01/2023

[5] B. P. Kennedy, Irish Painting (Town House and Country House 1993), p.35

[6] Dr. D Ferran, Paul Henry Mountain Road, Gormleys, The Mary and Ben Dunne Collection, An Exhibition of Exceptional Art 2022, p.57

[7] B. P. Kennedy, Irish Painting (Town House and Country House 1993), p.35

[8] B. P. Kennedy, Irish Painting (Town House and Country House 1993), p.35

[9] Ibid

[10] Dauphin, ‘Paul Henry’ Dictionary of Irish Biography, October 2009,>accessed 31/01/2023


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