Francis Corbett in his studio

Francis Corbett was a member of the well known business family who owned Corbett and Sons in Williamsgate Street. He was one of five siblings, one of whom, Gerard, went into the business. Francis also worked there but only for a short time, as he died relatively young in 1946. He was a talented artist, as were his brother Redmond and his sisters Lucy and Agnes. Francis was one of the founders of the Galway Art Club, and became its first treasurer.

This was a group of art enthusiasts who met at the home of Geraldine Dillon in Lenaboy Park in Salthill in 1937 with the purpose of establishing an art club. Their aim was simple, the pursuance of art in Galway, mainly by fostering local talent. Among those founders were Geraldine Dillon, Cara Donagh, Hubert Broderick, Matt Flynn, Francis Corbett, Archie Barnett, and Donagh McDonagh, a well known writer who was visiting Dillons at the time. This group met weekly to practise their art and to exchange ideas. They had the use of a room in Mary Street as a studio, and at various times held their meetings in Mill Street, Eglinton Street, and the Jes. They hosted lectures and demonstrations by visiting painters. They were a courageous and committed bunch who had no real public recognition until they hosted their first exhibition in 1943.

This was held in the Chamber of Commerce and only members of the club and those artists closely associated with the club were allowed exhibit. It included more than 40 paintings of landscapes, seascapes, portraits, still life, and views of Galway city. It was regarded as the outstanding feature of that week’s cultural life in Galway and was opened by Bishop Michael Browne who spoke about the work done by the Church as promoter and patroness of art.

There had been no real movement in the visual arts in Galway up to this point, so they began to attract a lot of interest, including a number of well known professionals such as Charles Lamb, Somhairle MacCana, Clare Sheridan, Fr Jack Hanlon, etc. Clare Sheridan introduced sculpture to the club and was a major influence on members. John Mulhern was a gifted young painter and charismatic teacher of art who would also become an important influence.

The real achievement of the club is the number of local people it introduced to art, opened their eyes, given them the self confidence to show their work in public, and in some cases, gone on to pursue a career in art.

Alison Titley, who is originally from Tuam, has just published a book entitled The Early Years of the Galway Art Club which describes the highs and lows of those formative years. It is profusely illustrated and a wonderful addition to any Galwegian’s library. In the course of her research, she traced a number of images produced in those years and many of these will be shown in an exhibition of works by deceased members of the club which opens in the Kenny Gallery in Liosbán tomorrow evening and will run for three weeks. The book, which is available in good bookshops at €18, will be launched at the opening.

Our photograph (courtesy of Fiach Ó Brolcháin ) is of Francis Corbett working in his studio which was at the back of his house in The Crescent. It was taken c1940.

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