The Permanent Collections

Painting Collection

Paul Henry (1876-1958) The Old Woman

The Old Woman

Henry, Paul

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c.1920, oil on linen, 15.5 x 22 cm (gift to the gallery in 1948)

Paul Henry (1876-1958) is popularly considered the most important Irish landscape painter of the 20th century. The son of a clergyman, he was born in Belfast in 1876. He trained in Belfast and Paris, studying for some time in James McNeill Whistler’s studio. Living in Paris he was exposed to, and influenced by, the work of Cézanne, Gauguin and van Gogh. In 1911 he visited Achill Island in Co Mayo, where he subsequently returned for extended periods of time, finally moving there in 1912.


The Old Woman draws the viewer into the lonely figure’s world. Enshrouded by shawl and sky, alone in a desolate landscape, she treads the open road. In many ways the image is bleak and impoverished, and yet there is something painfully sensitive about Paul Henry’s frill-less presentation of the old woman’s experience. She is testimony to the strength of the poor but proud individual’s determination and ability to survive in a beautiful but hostile environment.


Henry combined the technical skill acquired through his education in France with a depth of feeling born of his unique relationship to the Achill landscape. He produced works considered so synonymous with Ireland that, during his lifetime, they were used by the Irish tourist board as travel posters advertising the fair isle. Perhaps you recognise Achill Head, another of Henry’s paintings included in this collection. Paul Henry’s paintings were also informed by the work of his wife, the artist Grace Henry.

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