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Gerard Dillon (1916-1971)
Self-trained as an artist, Belfast-man Gerard Dillon worked as a house-painter and decorator in his early years, though an interest in the arts was apparent even as a teenager. In 1939 he and a friend went on a cycling holiday in the Connemara, an event which his biographer James White has since labelled "the most important development of his life" (Gerard Dillon: An Illustrated Biography, Wolfhound Press, Dublin, 1994). The imagery of the land, criss-crossed as it was by stone walls and dotted with cottages, and of the people in their brightly coloured home-spun clothes, remained with him for life and reappeared in many of his works. Dillon's first solo exhibition was held in 1942 in the Country Shop on St Stephen's Green, Dublin, and was opened by the champion of modern art in Ireland, Mainie Jellet. In 1943 Dillon showed his first work at the RHA. During the 1940s and '50s he became the rising star of the Irish avant-garde, his works widely exhibited and written about. His career has commonly been characterised as a succession of different phases, from his early naďve landscapes, to his final dream-scapes, populated by harlequins. Dillon died of a stroke in 1971. A retrospective was held the following year at the Ulster Museum and later at the Hugh Lane Gallery of Art, Dublin.