Art Gallery collection pre-1974
Reviewing the 1939 RHA exhibition, Stephen Rynne said; ‘There are only two original composers exhibiting in the 1939 Academy: Jack B. Yeats and W.J. Leech’ (Denson, 1968). Leech studied at the DMSA, the RHA schools and the Academie Julian, Paris, won the RDS’s Taylor Prize four times and a bronze medal from the Paris Salon in 1914. Yet Rynne felt it important to be so forthright. He said, ‘Of all living artists, Leech has the most sensitive optic nerves. Confronted by what is usually considered the uninspiring, Leech can furbish up a modern masterpiece. He does not require the Bridge of Sighs or the Lakes of Killarney to provoke him into action, hence it is usual for the critics to pass him by, because to them the commonplace even with a halo is meaningless.’ Like his mentor, Walter Osborne, Leech resisted academic teaching in favour of the freshness and vitality of the artists who painted out of doors in Brittany, exploiting the new emphasis on freer brushwork and more experimental colour of the French Impressionists. Leech spent three years in the little village of Concarneau in Brittany and made frequent return visits there and to other parts of Europe until the outbreak of World War II. In 1910 he settled in London and in 1912 married the artist Saurin Elizabeth Kerlin who acted as the model for many of his most important paintings. Leech exhibited at the RHA every year and in group shows in Ireland and Britain. After a long interval he had solo exhibitions at the Dawson Gallery in 1945 and 1947. In 1953 he married his second wife and they settled in Guildford in Surrey where Leech died.His paintings are characterized by a deeply nuanced understanding of colour and unusual perspectives, with the main subject often presented from an unconventional viewpoint. That trick of perspective caught the attention of the viewer and Leech held it with the vitality of his brushwork and his understanding of sunlight and shadow.Stephen Rynne commented on The Market, Concarneau, at the Dawson Gallery, ‘in which sunlight through trees is painted with sheer love of light and in which patches of vivid scarlet almost sing.’ (Dublin Magazine, July – September 1945). The Clonmel painting is almost certainly a sketch for this larger picture. What Rynne doesn’t mention is the way in which the fore and middle grounds of the painting are left virtually empty except for the large, sensitively-observed pool of shadow and the framing fringe of foliage and tree trunk. The work of the market - if it was ever intended as anything more than a reference point - is removed to the background, and stripped of detail. Only the market stall and the back-view of the traditionally clad women give us any information about the event. Small panel paintings such as this one were painted out-of-doors, on little wooden panels which slotted into a pochade box, designed to accommodate wet oil sketches, and were used by Leech, Hone, the Hamiltons and others.