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Costuming in Seán Keating’s self-portraits: theatrical guise or political disguise?

Valérie Morisson


The paintings of Irish artist Seán Keating (1889–1977) have admittedly contributed to asserting an Irish identity blending tradition and modernity. Seen from this perspective, his numerous self-portraits may be viewed as a means to embody a political ideal. His self-portraits in costume deserve more attention than they have received so far. As a matter of fact, Keating revisits a long tradition consisting in playfully painting oneself in disguise. However, he also resorts to costuming to serve a political cause. By dressing up as an Araner or by portraying himself in traditional attire in nationalist canvases, Keating embodies his political ideas and states that the place of the artist is in the midst of the nation and society.

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Full text document will be published online on May 2020.


Playing with identities: the costumed painter
Costume as ethnographic document
Political embodiment

First lines

In her two volumes on Irish painter Seán Keating (1889–1977), Seán Keating, Art Politics and the Building of the Irish Nation and Seán Keating in Context: Responses to Culture and Politics in Post-War Ireland, Éimear O’Connor shows that while Keating “has been written in Irish history as the bulwark against modernism in Irish art”, it is worth reevaluating his career and artistic output. Keating is easily defined as a traditional academic painter whose works unreservedly celebrate the Irish nation. The beginning of his training and career as a painter in Dublin coincided with a period of intense political trouble: the Easter Rising (1916), the War of Independence (1919–1921) and the Civil War (1922–1923). The Dublin Metropolitan School of Art “provided an invigorating visual and literal embodiment of politics in general, and nationalism in particular”. Keating’s figurative scenes emblematize visual n...

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Electronic reference

Valérie Morisson, « Costuming in Seán Keating’s self-portraits: theatrical guise or political disguise? », Études irlandaises [Online], 43-1 | 2018, Online since 30 May 2020, connection on 26 March 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/etudesirlandaises.5520

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About the author

Valérie Morisson

Université de Bourgogne Franche-Comté, TIL EA 4182. Valérie Morisson is a lecturer in English at the University of Burgundy, Dijon, France. Her research is on Irish contemporary art and its relation with post-nationalist culture. She investigates how political, social, and cultural evolutions in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are reflected in visual culture (painting, sculpture, installation, performance, video, photography). Her articles focus on a wide range of subjects ranging from feminist art, the issue of memory and the commemoration of history, to post-nationalist revisionism and the Northern-Irish situation as reflected in art. Several of her articles tackle photography and performance art in both an Irish and a European perspective. Her recent research addresses wider artistic issues in both the Irish and the English domains such as the role of archives and field work in the creation process or the use of discarded materials and the reemergence of materiality in contemporary art.

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