John Schwatschke is a contemporary Irish artist born to Austro-Irish parents in 1943. His father, Franz Schwatschke, moved to Carlow in 1926 after being headhunted from the Czech Republic to work at a sugar factory as an engineer. The junior Schwatschke was educated at The King’s Hospital school, after which he pursued his original career ambitions as a concert pianist. He played piano professionally for an audience on three occasions in 1970, 1971, and 1972. It was not long however before a close friend and his first patron, President Eamonn de Valera, persuaded him to give up music and put his sole focus into producing art. Schwatschke had studied art in the National College of Art as well as studying at the National Portrait Gallery in London - these serious interests in studying art as well as his skill are more than likely what caused de Valera to encourage him to “do one thing and do it well”.
His style of painting varied through the years, initially focusing on academic style portraiture, moving towards a cubist/construction style influenced by the archives he was shown by Picasso’s son, and most notably he paints in the style of caricature, satirising Irish society and its citizens. In this month’s auction we have two works by Schwatschke that embody the societal satire and vibrant characters of his signature style.
Lot 545 is an oil on canvas work by John Schwatschke entitled Testing Only. The painting in its simplest terms shows a luas dividing a busy crowd in Dublin city. When looking closer at the details of the painting, we see behaviours familiar to us in everyday Irish life. One woman walks right across the tramlines without any regard for the oncoming train, a large group seem to be attempting entry to the luas that clearly states ‘testing only’, and an onlooker carries a tray of two pints of Guinness; albeit stopped by a conductor before walking across the tracks and losing both her life and the pints.
Lot 546 is another oil on canvas, this time entitled Ballroom of Romance. This painting is a satirical work of the contrasting side of Ireland to the first work; a comment on rural life and a comedic take on the community in the countryside. The painting shows ‘The Rainbow Ballroom, Glenfarne: The Ballroom of Romance’, a country dance hall with a swarm outside of men in paddycaps and women in their ‘good dresses’. The Rainbow ballroom is a real dance hall in Leitrim and many happy marriages are attributed to ‘the romantic interlude’ that took place for twenty minutes each dance. The group outside the hall in this painting is representative of these happy couples.
Schwatschke has painted heads of State, Church, and notable celebrities, including Ingrid Berman and Cyril Cusack. He has painted the portrait of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.