John Luke (1906-1975)

The Gobbins (1933)

Oil on canvas laid on board

45cm x 58cm

Private Collection

John Luke was a painter, sculptor, muralist and printmaker best known for his paintings of landscape and figures. Born in Belfast in 1906, Luke initially worked in the Belfast shipyards and York Street Flax Spinning Co. When there he attended evening classes at the Belfast School of Art, later obtaining the Sorella scholarship for day classes.

In 1927 he won the coveted Dunville Scholarship which enabled him to attend the Slade School of Art in London, where he studied painting and sculpture under the celebrated Henry Tonks. On leaving the Slade in 1930 he remained in London, intent on establishing himself in the art world. For a time, he shared a flat and studio with fellow Ulster artist F.E. McWilliam. He began to exhibit his work and in October 1930 showed two paintings, The Entombment and Carnival, in an exhibition of contemporary art held at Leger Galleries. The latter piece, depicting a group of masked merry makers, was singled out by the influential critic, P.G. Konody of the Daily Mail as 'one of the most attractive features of the exhibition'.

In 1933 Luke was forced to return to Belfast due to a worsening financial situation. After the air raids on Belfast in 1941, he left the city with his mother to stay at Knappagh House, Killyrea, Co. Armagh where he obtained a post as art teacher at the Manor House School, Milford. In 1946 a solo exhibition was held at the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, and two years later the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) staged an exhibition of his work.

Luke was responsible for the large mural painting in the dome of Belfast City Hall, representing the life and history of the city. This work was commissioned by CEMA to commemorate the Festival of Britain, 1951. He carved relief coats of arms for two Governors of Northern Ireland, Lord Wakehurst and Lord Erskine of Rerrick, both of which are at Hillsborough Castle, Co. Down.