The Road To Glenlough

Rockwell Kent

The most famous and saleable artist

Rockwell Kent was during the 1920s and 30s one of the most famous and saleable artists in America. His lavishly illustrated edition of Moby Dick (1930) was voted the greatest illustrated American book of all time.

His modus operandi was to go to remote locations around the world and the more elemental the better. Once there he would fully immerse himself in the life and work of the locals.  With this increased understanding, he would commit both them and their surroundings to canvas. He would then bring these art works back to New York to sell.

It was on one of these journeys to Land’s End as he termed it that brought him into Glenlough in May of 1926. That summer he was on an extended honeymoon with his second wife Frances. There he hoped to be inspired into creating great art by the monumentality of the valley scene before him with its steep cliffs and ocean beyond. He transformed a cow shed into an apartment and another byre nearby as a makeshift studio. That summer he captured his neighbours rounding up sheep, fishing for lobster, building Dan Ward’s stack and distilling illegal poteen. These, along with his many Donegal landscapes, are now considered to be among his very best.

Twenty-five years later, the artist attempted to come back to Ireland and to buy this valley from its owner, Dan Ward. But being an avowed socialist and peace activist, he was denied his passport by the State Department. And so began a long legal battle which culminated in the Supreme Court judgement of 1958 in which he succeeded in a celebrated Right to Travel case. With his passport reinstated, he came back to Donegal and his beloved Glencolmcille for one last visit. While there he visited Glendalough, Port and then went to meet Annie McGinley in Teelin.  The tribute painting to his former maid Annie has lost none of its power and charm nearly a century after it was conceived.