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Sean Keating studied art in Limerick before winning a scholarship to study at the Metropolitan
School of Art in Dublin. He studied painting under the artist William Orpen and Orpen found him
an excellent pupil. He painted in a similar realist fashion to Orpen and developed his skills in this
area, even at a time when abstract painting was becoming popular in Ireland. A traditionalist, he
believed in strong drawing skills and an academic approach to painting. Keating went to London as
Orpen’s assistant and sometimes model but, as a nationalist, he felt his mission was to help define
what nationhood meant through his painting. A trip to the Aran Islands in 1914 greatly inspired
him; here was the noble islander who represented the ideal, strong, independent type of man needed
for the new nation. For Keating he became the image of national identity.
Men of the South shows a group of IRA men.
They are waiting for a British military group
to pass. An ambush is imminent but as we see
from their staunch profiles these men are not
concerned for their own safety, but for the
principles they hold. Keating portrays these
six men as a coherent group. Strong drawing
underlies the figures and the neutral tones
create an earthy wholesome attachment of the
men to the landscape. Keating has made
heroes of these men; this painting is not about
the grime and pain of war, but about the
idealism and patriotism behind it.