Louis le Brocquy is one of Ireland's most celebrated artists. He has exhibited extensively worldwide and is represented in many major public collections. He is perhaps best-known for his paintings of heads, influenced by Celtic concepts of the relationship between the head and the spirit. The subjects of these include such Irish luminaries as W. B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett and James Joyce.
However, le Brocquy is also renowned for his book illustration and his tapestry design. His monumental tapestry, The Triumph of Cuchulainn, hangs in the Millennium Wing of the National Gallery of IrelandThe Painting
A signal work in the development of le Brocquy's oeuvre, A Family is counted among the artist's so-called 'Grey' paintings, distinguished by their restricted palette and melancholic tone. Painted in London, where le Brocquy had settled in 1946, the picture was conceived against a backdrop of nuclear threat, widespread social upheaval and the vast refugee crisis that followed the Second World War. Le Brocquy challenges conventional perceptions of the family, presenting a group characterized by the separateness of its members.
The figure of the mother assumes the general pose, if not the sexualized identity, of the courtesan in Manet's Olympia (Musée d'Orsay), which le Brocquy had first seen in Paris in 1938. Le Brocquy was fascinated by traditional Odalisque painting, from Titian's Venus of Urbino and Velásquez's Rokeby Venus to Goya's images of Maja. However, like Manet, he eschews the traditional arrangement to challenge the viewer's expectations. The setting, a stark, cold space, is imbued with anxiety.
When offered to the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin in 1952, A Family was rejected, probably on account of its style and execution, but also possibly because its subject was deemed inconsistent with prevailing notions of Irish culture. However, it was subsequently awarded the prestigious Prealpina Prize at the Venice Biennale in 1956.
The painting can be viewed in the National Gallery of Ireland's Millennium Wing.