Spotlight on an Artist - Christy brown (1932 - 1981)

Christy Brown is a name synonymous with Irish culture, particularly for those from Dublin

09/07/2024     Artworks

Christy Brown was born in Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital in June 1932. After his birth, he was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy which affected the use of all of his limbs, besides his lower left leg and foot. Brown was born into a working class family based in Crumlin and was the 12th child of 22 born to his parents Bridget and Patrick. The Rotunda had initially recommended that he be admitted to a hospital for full-time care, but her parents were determined to care for him at home in a familial setting.

Though physically impaired, his mental capacity was not affected, as is clearly displayed in his admired compositions and literary works. At the age of five, he first used his left foot to hold something - a piece of chalk he took from his sister. While in hospital recovering after the birth of her 13th child, Brown’s mother met social worker in training, Katriona Maguire. Maguire was fascinated by the story of Christy Brown and how he used his left foot as an alternative to holding objects by hand. In 1948, when Brown was 16 he took his first trip abroad to Lourdes; a trip encouraged and financially supported by Maguire. For the majority of his adolescence, Brown worked with Maguire to develop his skills. She provided him with materials for painting and literature, two of his greatest interests.

Brown had very little formal education, though he did occasionally attend St. Brendan’s School Clinic where he met author Robert Collis. Collis was the one who encouraged and assisted Brown in writing his autobiography My Left Foot which was published in 1954. It took four years in total for the book to be completed, with Brown relying quite a lot on his siblings to work as his scribes. The book came to be a huge success, with Brown spending a significant amount of time in America after it was published. Unfortunately, he came to regret his decision to publish the book as he wanted to be known as more than a ‘miracle story’.

In 1968 Bridget Brown passed away and Christy found himself in a very dark place. He was encouraged by Beth Moore, a married American woman he had started an affair with during his time in the States, to complete his novel Down All The Years. The book centres around working-class Dublin and the harsh realities that are believed to have been inspired directly by Brown’s own personal experience.

After returning to Ireland from America, Brown and Moore were to marry and live in house specially built to fit his needs. However, Brown soon started an affair with another woman; this time with Mary Carr, a British woman who he had met in London. The two married in 1972 and moved in together in Rathcoole, later moving to Kerry and finally settling in Somerset in England. Brown’s health began to decline after the two married and in 1981 he passed away at their home in Somerset.

Christy Brown was one of the first members of Arnulf Stegmann’s Disabled Artists Association, from which he received a monthly sum for painting a previously agreed number of artworks per year. In 1989, the film My Left Foot, based on Brown’s book of the same name was released, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker, both of whom received Oscars for their roles in the production. In this month’s auction we have a work painted by Brown titled The Potato Gatherers. The work was painted in 1958, only four years after his renowned autobiography was published. Christy Brown is a name synonymous with Irish culture, particularly for those from Dublin and this painting would make for a very interesting talking point in any home.

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