Title: Black '47
Artist/Maker: Farrell, Micheal
Date Created: 1997-1998
Medium-Tech: Hillier's medium and acrylic on canvas
Dim-English: 118 in x 177 in
Object #: 2012.6
Exhibit Label: Micheal Farrell
Hillier’s medium and acrylic on canvas
Micheal Farrell attended Saint Martin’s School of Art, London. In 1961 he showed with the Young Contemporaries, and, aged 23, was awarded the Prix de Rome. In 1966 a teaching position at the Pratt Institute, New York, ended with his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War.
For Black ’47, Farrell studied horrifying Holocaust photographs taken at Auschwitz. Projected as if from outside the picture, a raking light—like a searchlight—bisects the painting, falling full force on the assistant secretary to the British Treasury, Charles Trevelyan, who holds forth, justifying the withholding of food, and pointing to the potato as the root cause of the Famine.
Skeletons are relegated to a hole in the floor. Although a consequence of societal collapse during the Famine was the breakdown of communal ties, here two skeletons are wrapped around one another—the dead have united to support each other. Beneath are shoes—all that remain of the once-living people. The feet beneath the exhumed skeletons recall the discarded shoes found at Nazi death camps. A smug landlord smiles down on the human remains—with so many deaths and departures, his mission is accomplished. A wolfhound—a symbol of Ireland in nationalist iconography—flees from the scene of the crime.
The bodies in the grave sprout up as witnesses for the defence. The crowd in the darkened gallery point to the victims, while the British turn their backs on the proceedings. And there is a group of Turks. In 1847 Sultan Abdülmedjid sent aid to Ireland; initially, he pledged £10,000, but allegedly, to avoid embarrassing Queen Victoria, reduced it to £1,000 (and, according to some uncorroborated accounts, secretly sent three ships of grain).