Gerard Dillon (1916-1971)

The Confessional (c.1951)

Oil on canvas

Private collection

Born in 1916 on Lower Clonard Street, off the Falls Road in west Belfast, Gerard Dillon is one of the most renowned Irish artists of the twentieth century. Primarily a self-taught artist, Dillon left school at the age of fourteen to become a house painter. After some time in London, he spent the war years in Ireland, with his first one-man show being held at the Country Shop, Dublin in 1942. Dillon first exhibited with the Irish Exhibition of Living Art in Dublin in 1943, although he would return to London after the war, remaining there until 1968. Despite this, he frequently returned to Ireland to paint and to visit friends including fellow artist Nano Reid.

In 2016, the Ulster Museum held a major centenary exhibition of Dillon’s work which, amongst other themes, explored the exclusion he felt from Irish society as a working-class northern nationalist and as a gay man.

Dillon was raised as a Catholic by his deeply religious mother. In his youth, he began to question his faith, ultimately rejecting many aspects of it. In this image two individuals are seen seeking forgiveness from a priest who appears to be asleep. It is unclear who the subjects of this painting are meant to represent, but it is undoubtedly inspired by Dillon’s own conflicting relationship with religion and personal identity.