Patrick Leonard - an appreciation

Published in 2004 
James Trollope

Paddy’s women are a sight to behold. A waitress in Benidorm spins elegantly on high heels, her platter perfectly balanced as she moves towards an unseen customer. An ungainly mother in ill-fitting jogging pants hangs up the family washing with the hindrance of her chubby daughter. A daydreaming beauty fills a bucket from an ancient water pump which seems boldly but, almost certainly unintentionally, phallic. I say unintentionally because many of Paddy’s best pictures have innocence uncontaminated by nostalgia. They cut to what is straightforward and true, the simple, daily pleasures of life.

Perhaps surprisingly, the first Paddy I fell in love with was distinctly unfeminine. It featured a solitary man working in a sunlit cornfield at Rush. It was painted in the 1950s which some consider his best decade. It was the only Irish picture in an otherwise undistinguished auction of hunting scenes and Victoriana held some years ago at Sotheby’s regional saleroom at Billingshurst in West Sussex. I was caught off guard when the bidding started on the lower estimate. Having raised my finger at my limit, I found myself bidding again only to be trumped by a telephone bidder. It may have saved me from debt but it also left me with a lasting feeling of regret.

Knowing nothing of Irish art, except that I had loved and lost ‘Cornfield at Rush’, I telephoned the Royal Hibernian Academy and asked about Patrick Leonard who is a honorary member. A year or so later I was knocking at his front door. It was answered by the lady whom he has painted more than anyone else, his wife Doreen. The early pastels of her and the couple’s two daughters, on the beaches of Rush, and elsewhere are unforgettably lovely. Over some of Doreen’s scones and tea, Paddy told me something of his life. How he had studied under Sean Keating and Maurice Mac Gonigal; how, in 1952, he had been chosen to represent Ireland at the Olympic games exhibition at Helsinki with Letitia Hamilton; and how he had subsequently destroyed his entry ‘Tennis Players’ because it was too big and unsold.

Nowadays his work commands healthy prices, the record being £17,625 for ‘On the beach, Rush’ which was sold at Christies in London in 2001. But during most of his life Paddy, who was born at the end of the first world war, relied on teaching to support the family.

Later, I bought a painting called ‘The twins’ first day at school’ in which two sisters wearing hooded jackets and enormous satchels head through dark clouds and rain towards a block of classrooms. A bright splash of colour is provided by one of the girls dazzling orange socks reflected in a sodden path. This simple but evocative picture is in the best tradition of Paddy’s women. I love it dearly but that doesn’t stop me pining for ‘Cornfield at Rush’! 
 Copyright © James Trollope 2004