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Whelan, Leo – artist

On Friday, 2nd October 2015, a Dublin City Council commemorative plaque honouring artist and portrait painter Leo Whelan was unveiled near the Mater Hospital.

The plaque is located at 65 South Eccles Street, where Whelan’s parents operated a small hotel and the artist lived most of his life. This residence is today occupied by ARC Cancer Support Centres. The plaque was unveiled by the then President of the Royal Hibernian Academy, Mick O’Dea, with Councillor Nial Ring speaking on behalf of Dublin City Council.

A prolific and successful artist, Whelan attended the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art after leaving school and was a student of Sir William Orpen, who had a significant influence on his artistic style. Exhibiting annually at the Royal Hibernian Academy from 1911 until his death in 1956, he became primarily known for his portraits of nationalist leaders and other leading figures from the spheres of academia, religion, society, medicine, and law. Among his political portraits were Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith, Kevin O’Higgins, Douglas Hyde, Seán T. O’Kelly and Éamon de Valera.

Whelan never married and died in a Dublin nursing home on 6th November 1956, at the age of 64. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Those wishing to learn more about the artist’s life can consult Wanda Ryan-Smolin’s article, ‘Leo Whelan (1892-1956)’ in the Irish Arts Review Yearbook (1994) when Dublin City Library and Archive reopen. 

You can also watch the presentation below by Dr James Curry, Dublin City Council historian in residence, which is part of a Plaques of Dublin online lecture series.

Submitted by Historian in Residence, James Curry.