Imogen Stuart Life Biography

Biography

Overview

“Imogen Stuart’s career and corpus of work forms a ‘level of achievement’ which can scarcely be equalled by any sculptor in this country.”
- Dr. Peter Harbison, M.R.I.A.

Imogen Stuart is one of Ireland’s foremost sculptors. Her prodigious work in a variety of media has attracted international attention and critical acclaim over a career that spans the last seven decades.

Her continuing work in wood, stone, bronze, steel, cement, plaster, terracotta and glass places whimsical inspirations of mythology, prophesy and dream on a shared foundation with Irish religious traditions and scriptural imagery.

Imogen has developed a signature style of narrative sculpture, drawing on multifarious influences; her idiosyncratic approach pays homage to German Expressionism, Bavarian Rococo churches, Egyptian sculpture and primitive art. She has also especially been influenced and inspired by ancient Irish art and culture; stone carving, metalwork and early Christian literature and poetry.

Imogen’s sculptures may be seen across Ireland in both church and market square, in rarefied academic settings and in private collections. Now in her mid-80s, her dedication to making art continues, unyieldingly.

Early Years

“Five years of studies with a great man and artist and all that entails: the philosophy of life; the love of life; the knowledge of the craft; the sophistication of a past generation; a symphony of beauty and spirit. Beside my childhood these years with the Master had the greatest influence on my life.”
- Imogen Stuart (Notes On The Life Of A Sculptor, Milltown Studies 22 (1988) 92-94.

Imogen was born in 1927 and raised in Berlin. She was the elder daughter of Bruno E. Werner, Germany’s leading art critic of the Thirties and it was her father who asked the famous German expressionist sculptor, Professor Otto Hitzberger, to take his daughter as a pupil after the War. Professor Otto Hitzberger had taught for 35 years at Berlin National College of Art and retired to his native Bavaria. Surrounded by post war scarcity, Imogen helped Hitzberger make grave-crosses in return for food packages from local farmers, whilst learning composition, form, technique and working with different materials. During this time, she was introduced to Romanesque art and great early modern sculptors including Rodin, Maillol and Barlach. Later, she studied on a Travelling Scholarship at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Berlin (HFBK) and at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich.

Move To Ireland

In 1948 Imogen met Ian Stuart, the son of novelist Francis Stuart and Iseult Gonne – the daughter of Maud Gonne. Imogen and Ian both studied under Hitzberger’s tutelage until the couple returned to Ireland and married in 1951. Imogen and Ian had three daughters. They separated in 1970.

Imogen started her career in Ireland living in Laragh Castle, Co. Wicklow, and later moved to Dublin. Her discovery of Ireland, the miraculous and mysterious landscapes of Glendalough and her observances of Irish nationalism, music and all the Irish saints and scholars - and her later conversion to Catholicism – formed a rich medley that continues to inspire her work.

“Within the sharply defined limits of material, subject, space, size and money given, I learned to develop within myself a great freedom of expression. My life is full of gifts or minor miracles. I never intellectualize – the eyes and senses dictate my hands directly. Once the work has been completed a symbolism becomes so obviously and profoundly evident that I have to regard it as supernatural.”
- Imogen Stuart (Notes On The Life Of A Sculptor, Milltown Studies 22 (1988) 92-94.

Achievements

Imogen has regularly showed at the RHA, contributed to the Irish Exhibition of Living Art and exhibited in both solo retrospectives and group exhibitions across Ireland – including: Living Art Salzburg Biennale; Houses of the Oireachtas; the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, Dublin; the Solomon Gallery, Dublin; the Jonathan Swift Gallery, Dublin; and the National Self-Portrait Collection in Limerick. She has worked for both private commissions and for the Catholic Church, an early and important patron.

Her expressive work trail-blazed ecclesiastical statuary in the 1950s and continues to stand apart with her unique and instantly recognisable style. Her playful, tender depictions of biblical and mythical stories respect epic narrative but also penetrate and expose the universality of nature in all its guises.

Significant church commissions include the Stations of the Cross in Muckross, Ballintuber Abbey and Firhouse, Tallaght; the interiors of Castleknock Church and Burt Church (which was subsequently voted ‘Irish Building of the 20th Century’ and designed by Donegal architect Liam McCormick); and the large bronze of Pope John Paul II in Maynooth; the bronze doors on Galway Cathedral; the Madonna in the Lady’s Chapel of Christ Church Cathedral; the 16ft Penal Cross in Lough Derg, located in the Sanctuary in the Basilica and the altar, ambo, presidential chair (sedilia) and baptismal font of the Honan Chapel at UCC, designed by Richard Hurley.

Other major commissions include: President Erskine Childers gravesite; the official commemorative medal and stamp for the Canonization of St. Oliver Plunkett; the official bronze busts of former President Mrs Mary Robinson for Áras an Uachtaráin (State House) and Sean MacBride for Iveagh House; Flame Of Human Dignity, Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris; The Arch Of Peace, Market Square in Cavan Town and Pangur Bán, a handcarved twelve foot high pitch pine sculpture originally commissioned for the Shopping Centre in Dun Laoghaire and now located in University College Dublin (UCD).

Imogen has received the Oireachtas art exhibition award (1972) and the ESB Keating McLoughlin Award at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) annual exhibition (1972), among others. She was elected a member of Aosdána in 1981 and a full member of the RHA in 1990. She was elected by the RHA as professor of sculpture in 2000. Imogen received honorary doctorate degrees from Trinity College (2002), UCD (2004) and NUI Maynooth (2005). In 2010, the President of Ireland Mary McAleese presented Imogen with the McAuley Medal, a recognition of her long-standing relationship with Mary Immaculate College and a lifetime contribution to the arts in Ireland.

“How many living artists are so versatile, productive and professional, so much masters of their material and the tools of their trade, so adaptable and receptive without compromising their personal vision or outlook? She is, in a sense, an eclectic and a traditionalist, yet her style is strongly fingerprinted and recognisably her own.”
- Brian Fallon (“The forging of a style: a critical essay” in Imogen Stuart: Sculptor by Brian Fallon. Four Courts Press.)