Tom Walker reviews Margaret Clarke: An Independent Spirit at the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, on view through until August 20, 2017.
Walker writes: "Throughout her career, Clarke enjoyed commercial success as a portrait painter, receiving several official commissions. But the best of her work in this genre, often done when not working to order, seems again to search out a certain kind of awkwardness. The remarkable early portrait Robin Redbreast (c. 1915) depicts her younger sister Minnie staring out intensely at the viewer, thumbs tucked into the pockets of her scarlet waistcoat. A sense of the vitality of this defiant pose is tempered, though, by the flat, bright blue-green wallpaper closing up the space behind. Reflected light in the sitter’s eyes is echoed in the glimmering of her jewellery. The decorative and the theatrical are here in some kind of uneasy tension with any intimacy with the subject’s character."