Cherith McKinstry (1928-2004)

Vietnamese Family (circa 1970-1975)

Oil on canvas

56cm x 46cm

In the Permanent Collection of the Irish Linen Centre & Lisburn Museum

Born Cherith Boyd in Worcester in 1928, McKinstry’s family relocated to her father’s native Ulster when she was three years old. During the Second World War her school was evacuated to Learmount Castle in the Sperrin Mountains where she contracted polio. The resultant lameness in one leg meant she was unable to participate in physical activities with her peers, instead spending extended periods of time alone in nature which she later recalled as an idyllic influence on her work.

After initial intermittent training in sculpture at the Belfast College of Art, she returned in 1950 to study painting under Romeo Toogood, where she met fellow artists Basil Blackshaw and T. P. Flanagan. In 1954 she won a Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) travel scholarship to France and Italy and in 1958 married the Banbridge born architect Robert McKinstry. Her first solo show was held in Belfast in 1962 at the CEMA Gallery and in 1966 she won the Fergus O’Ryan Memorial Award at the Royal Hibernian Academy. Public commissions included Stations of the Cross for St Macnissi’s Church in Magherahoney (1967), a large staircase mural for Queen’s University Belfast (1986) and perhaps her most celebrated work, six large tromp l’oeil ceiling panels for the restored Belfast Opera House (1979).

McKinstry worked within what has been described as a timeless, classical representational tradition, though later in life she experimented with a more abstract idiom. Her mature work, consisting of carefully considered studies of landscape, figure and still-life subjects, as well as views of isolated objects, are characterised by a mellow, even light and picturesque harmony. Earlier in her practice, she was drawn to explicitly Christian themes, including her painting Mary at Bethlehem (1962), which is in the Ulster Museum.

This piece, purchased by the Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum in 2011, was created by McKinstry in response to the plight of the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War. The abiding concern in her work throughout the 1960s and 1970s was with suffering, inhumanity and endurance. These works might illustrate her friend Kenneth Jamison’s observation that “in the private world of her imagination she postulated the presence of young people, innocent, noble, androgynous, untainted by the baleful influence of society.”