Galway Girl

[A little history from the place I will soon call home; a repost from a while back]

In Eyre Square, the center of the old city of Galway, there hang 14 banners with the names of the tribal families of the region. On one of those banners is the name O’Flaherty. The O’Flahertys were the most notorious of the 14 families. Their men were known to be drinkers, fighters and ruthless killers. It’s said that when you were going to bed at night to say your prayers, after thanking God for all your blessings and forgiveness of your sins, you’d finish the prayer by saying, “God preserve us from the ferocious O’Flahertys,” because it was a real possibility, that on their way home from a night of drinking and carousing, if they passed by your house, the O’Flaherty boys might decide on a whim to break and and kill the lot of you. 

Now what does that have to do with a Galway girl? Well, it has to do with the woman one of the O’Flahertys married. There was a young lady named Grace O’Malley (Gráinne Mhaol) nearly as infamous as the O’Flahertys. Little Grace was the daughter of a pirate. And rather than play with dollies and stay at home with her Mam, Grace craved to follow after her father’s footsteps. Her father of course, thought this was ridiculous and told her to settle down and be a good girl. Grace was having none of it. 

So great was her desire to go to sea, that she cut off all her hair, stole the clothing of a neighbor boy and sneaked onto her father’s ship just as it was about to go out of port. It was only after they were far away from land that Grace revealed herself to her father. Her father, naturally, was angry, but he also saw Grace’s determination and ferocity. So he set about to take the girl under his wing and teach her the ways of pirating. Grace eventually took over the family business and became known as the Pirate Queen of Ireland.

Grace outlasted two husbands. The first -O’Flaherty- was killed after sustaining grievous wounds in a fight. The second -Richard Burke- was a wealthy lord and landowner. However, after just a year of marriage, legend says that O’Malley and her followers locked themselves in Rockfleet Castle and she called out a window to Burke, “Richard Burke, I dismiss you.” This effectively rendered them divorced. But she retained much of his holdings.

Later, after having dealings with Queen Elizabeth I, it’s said that the English Monarch developed a soft spot for Grace. Grace claimed that both of her husbands had abused her during their married lives and this evoked pity from the Virgin Queen, so much so that as Grace attained old age, the queen bestowed a pension upon the Pirate Queen of Ireland.

So let’s hear it for the Galway Girl. Cunning and fierce, wealthy and powerful. And as wicked as they come!

Research Notes – The Great War (23) Max Beckmann, Artist

“My heart beats more for a rougher, more vulgar art… one that offers access to the terrible, the crude, the magnificent, the ordinary, the grotesque, and the banal in life. Art that can always be right there for us, in the realest things of life.” Max Beckmann

Max Beckmann was born on February 12, 1884 in Leipzig, The Kingdom of Saxony, part of the newly established German Empire. He began painting as a youth, attempting to emulate the old masters, resulting in his early work following the classic, academic style. At the outbreak of war in 1914, Beckmann enlisted as a medical orderly and his experiences as such would forever change his art. Rather than continuing to paint traditional and realistic depictions, he began to distort figures and space —a demonstration of his altered view of the world and humanity within it.

In letters home, he wrote of his experiences as a medical officer, bringing the wounded to the hospitals for treatment: “…the sick lie naked on the table, often four or five of them. … With no sign of emotion, the doctors courteously show me the most horrible wounds. The sharp smell of putrefaction was hovering over everything, despite good ventilation and well-lit rooms. I was able to take it for about an hour and a half then I had to go out into the open landscape.”

Beckmann recreated this vision in his etching: The Large Operation, (1914):

Grosse Operation, Max Beckmann 1914 (courtesy MoMa)

After his discharge from the military, he transformed his art to reflect the horrors of war. Even those works not explicitly about the war are informed by it. Now his works —crowded with figures and details— were all jagged lines, broken planes and angular forms. The effect was unsettling and claustrophobic.

An example of this style can be seen in Playing Children (1918) in which the figures of the children are compressed into a tight circle. Adding to the sense of menace, most of the children wield weapons and engage in a violent mock battle.

Spielende Kinder; Max Beckmann, 1918 (courtesy MoMa)

Beckmann became quite successful in the years after the war. Many of his paintings portrayed the cabaret culture of post war Germany and the decadence that arose during the time of the Weimar Republic.

Dancing Bar In Baden-Baden; Max Beckmann, 1923

However, things changed with the rise of the Nazis. Adolf Hitler disliked Modern Art to the extent that it was suppressed by the state. Beckmann was labeled a “cultural Bolshevik” and his work declared degenerate. In 1937, Beckmann left Germany for the Netherlands and never returned.

In 1948, he moved to the United States but his tenure as an American was to be short lived. Only months after obtaining a professorship at the Art School of New York’s Brooklyn Museum, he suffered a heart attack and died at the corner of 69th and Central Park West, not far from the apartment he shared with his wife.

Header image: Self Portrait in a Tuxedo; Max Beckmann