Por­traitist An­thony Pal­liser talks to Lara Mar­lowe about his friend­ship with a cir­cle of Ir­ish cul­tural fig­ures and their hal­cyon days at Lug­gala

The por­trait- painter An­thony Pal­liser talks to Lara Mar­lowe about his friend­ship with Garech Browne, hal­cyon days at Lug­gala and his fa­mous Ir­ish sub­jects

The Irish Times Magazine - - INSIDE -

The first time I vis­ited An­thony Pal­liser’s Paris home, back in 2007, I found the po­ets Derek Ma­hon and John Mon­tague in the An­glo- Bel­gian painter’s stu­dio, which dou­bles as a sit­ting room, along with the com­poser Bill Whe­lan and Garech Browne, the Guinness heir who passed away this win­ter.

Over the years, Pal­liser and his Amer­i­can wife Diane in­vited me of­ten to their lively, in­for­mal par­ties, where guests eat, drink and chat among Pal­liser’s can­vases. The Ir­ish con­tin­gent grad­u­ally over­whelmed all oth­ers. There were John Banville and John Boor­man, Sinéad Cu­sack, Brian Friel, Sea­mus Heaney, Michael D Hig­gins, Thomas Kin­sella, Paul McGuin­ness, Paddy Moloney, Edna O’Brien, Colm Tóibin . . .

When I re­turned to in­ter­view Pal­liser in mid- May, the room felt de­pop­u­lated. The dozens of Ir­ish men and women had gone, as it were, to where they be­long, to Dublin, where you can meet them at the Farm­leigh Gallery in Phoenix Park through­out the sum­mer.

Gerry Smyth, the poet who was then a man­ag­ing ed­i­tor at The Ir­ish Times, re­quested an ar­ti­cle about Pal­liser’s paint­ings and his friend­ship with Browne, the owner of Lug­gala estate in Wick­low and a great pa­tron of the arts. Browne co- founded Claddagh Records in 1959, and played a key role in the re­vival of Ir­ish tra­di­tional mu­sic.

For 16 years, Browne en­cour­aged Pal­liser to paint Ir­ish cul­tural fig­ures. Browne was the driv­ing force be­hind this sum­mer’s show at Farm­leigh. In Pal­liser’s last por­trait of him, Browne is older and more white- haired, but with the same bald pate, imp­ish smile and wispy beard I’d seen in ear­lier por­traits. The por­trait is printed on the in­vi­ta­tion and the cover of the Farm­leigh ex­hi­bi­tion cat­a­logue.

Browne came to din­ner at the Pal­lis­ers’ five days be­fore his death. Be­fore trav­el­ling on to Lon­don, he ac­com­pa­nied El­iz­a­beth Was­sell Mon­tague, the nov­el­ist and widow of Browne’s close friend, the poet John, to see Mon­tague’s trans­la­tor on the out­skirts of Paris.

“Garech for­got his keys and money at the trans­la­tor’s home, so the taxi had to turn around,” Pal­liser says. “El­iz­a­beth told me it gave her an extra hour in his pres­ence. Garech told her how ex­cited he was about the ex­hi­bi­tion, and how much he loved the last por­trait I did of him, painted in a blessed mo­ment and fin­ished two days be­fore he saw it. The paint was still wet.”

Browne and Pal­liser met in 1977, at the wed­ding of Loulou de la Falaise, the Franco- Ir­ish high fash­ion model who be­came a de­signer for Yves St Lau­rent, and Thadée Klos­sowski de Rola, the son of the painter Balthus, whose work Pal­liser ad­mires.

Browne and Pal­liser found them­selves on a punt fer­ry­ing guests back and forth to an is­land in the Bois de Boulogne. They were hav­ing such a good time that they asked the boatman to take them back and forth sev­eral times.

Four years later, Browne mar­ried Princess Har­shad Purna Devi, the daugh­ter of the ma­haraja of the princely state of Morvi, western In­dia. Pal­liser is a fine racon­teur, in words as well as in paint, and he rel­ishes telling the story of the wed­ding in Bom­bay for the umpteenth time.

“A ma­haraja’s daugh­ter mar­ried an Ir­ish aris­to­crat . . . The amount of liquor that flowed!” Pal­liser re­calls. “Garech be­came a Hindu in a cer­e­mony. He looked very much the part, sit­ting in the lo­tus po­si­tion. He was in a bad mood, prob­a­bly hun­gover. He said he’d prob­a­bly get ty­phoid from hav­ing all that Ganges wa­ter thrown at him . . . I was best man, look­ing very stupid, as do all white men wear­ing tur­bans.”

The last time Browne came to din­ner, he had just re­turned from vis­it­ing Princess Purna. “Garech spent part of ev­ery win­ter with her in In­dia,” Pal­liser con­tin­ues. “They had a spe­cial mar­riage in the sense that they spent much of the year apart, but they re­mained very at­tached to each other, in an ex­tremely un­con­ven­tional mar­riage.”

Pal­liser be­came a fre­quent guest at Lug­gala, the mag­nif­i­cent estate that Browne in­her­ited from his mother, Oon­agh Guinness. In Au­gust 2016, Browne in­vited Pres­i­dent Michael D Hig­gins and his daugh­ter, Se­na­tor Alice Mary, to lunch at Lug­gala with the Pal­lis­ers. “Not many peo­ple say no to lunch at Lug­gala,” Pal­liser says. Hig­gins agreed to be pho­tographed for a por­trait, which can also be seen at Farm­leigh.

“At the end of lunch, the piper Neil­lidh Mul­li­gan ar­rived with his son and daugh­ter. The harpist Siob­hán Arm­strong played too. Then the piper’s daugh­ter, a very pretty girl in her late teens, asked Garech if he’d like her to dance. The pres­i­dent’s body­guards, big fel­lows, moved a ta­ble to make room. The fa­ther and brother went on play­ing while she danced. It was typ­i­cal of Garech to cre­ate such magic. He had this sense of the mo­ment.”

Pal­liser re­mem­bers Lug­gala in the 1980s, when Browne threw a lav­ish party, com­plete with tents, fire­works and Mick Jag­ger, for the wed­ding of film direc­tor John Boor­man’s daugh­ter, Ka­trine, to Ter­ence Con­ron’s son, Tom.

Since the 1990s, Pal­liser and Diane Lawyer, the woman he still calls his “bride,” have been in­sep­a­ra­ble. It be­came a tra­di­tion for Diane, a great cook, to use up her baggage al­lowance car­ry­ing gro­ceries from Paris mar­kets to Lug­gala. “For ex­am­ple, Diane cooked the lunch for Michael D,” Pal­liser says. “She was told there would be nine, then 12, then 14 peo­ple, all within the space of an hour. She was helped by Anna and Mar­garet, the staff at Lug­gala. For Diane, food is like moth­er­hood. It’s a way of giv­ing.”

The Pal­lis­ers al­ways slept in the same room at Lug­gala, where Browne hung An­thony’s self- por­trait. “When Michael Jack­son stayed in my room, he asked for ‘ the por­trait of the freaky- look­ing man with the frizzy hair’ to be taken down,” Pal­liser laughs.

Pal­liser speaks of Lug­gala as an en­chanted, spir­i­tual place. Browne al­lowed no shoot­ing or hunt­ing on the grounds, though even­tu­ally the deer had to be culled. “One day we were driv­ing on the nar­row road up the hill and we had to stop be­cause there was a wild turkey in the mid­dle. Garech got out and looked at it and said, ‘ Now what are we go­ing to do?’ We waited un­til it walked away . . . He was a very gen­tle man. He could be fierce. He could be mean when he’d had one too many. Oc­ca­sion­ally he wasn’t nice. But the ba­sic man was a very kind, thought­ful man, very loyal in friend­ship.”

Pal­liser keeps a large en­ve­lope filled

When Michael Jack­son stayed in my room, he asked for ‘ the por­trait of the freaky- look­ing man with the frizzy hair’ to be taken down – An­thony Pal­liser

with thank you notes from his Ir­ish sit­ters. He met all but three through Browne. An­other close friend of Pal­liser and Browne, the ac­tor Char­lotte Rampling, fa­cil­i­tated the pho­to­graphic ses­sion with Dame Edna O’Brien, which pro­duced a draw­ing in the Farm­leigh show. O’Brien had agreed to 10 min­utes, and ended up talk­ing with Pal­liser for over an hour. He has a habit of be­friend­ing sit­ters.

One of Pal­liser’s best paint­ings, his por­trait of Gra­ham Greene in the Na­tional Gallery in Lon­don, grew out of a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence. Greene ex­pected sit­ting for his por­trait to be an or­deal, but he and Pal­liser hit it off. They lunched to­gether daily af­ter sit­tings in An­tibes. Greene later vis­ited Pal­liser in Paris.

It was Browne who sug­gested the Pal­lis­ers in­vite Derek Ma­hon to din­ner in Paris, years ago. They be­came fast friends, and Ma­hon vis­ited the cou­ple in Diane’s home town, Sa­van­nah, Ge­or­gia, where the Pal­lis­ers spend sev­eral months yearly. “Derek wanted a shabby room by the sea, which was easy to find,” Pal­liser re­calls. “He went swim­ming ev­ery day, alone with the pel­i­cans. It was cold and lo­cal in­hab­i­tants thought he was crazy.”

One day, when Pal­liser went to fetch Ma­hon for lunch, he asked the poet dur­ing the car ride, “When you were drink­ing, what was your favourite tip­ple?”

Ma­hon has been “to­tally dry for many years”, Pal­liser notes. “He said, ‘ Oh­hhh, well that de­pends en­tirely where you are’. It was the most fan­tas­tic, en­cy­clo­pe­dic and ador­ing trib­ute to booze. Rum in Jamaica. Whiskey in Cork. He went through the dif­fer­ent places where drinks could be had and how to have them. It was a re­frain, al­most like a hymn to booze. It should have been recorded and pub­lished.”

Pal­liser painted Ma­hon five times. Sea­mus Heaney was the only other Ir­ish per­son he painted as of­ten, and he be­lieves the large Heaney por­trait is his best. He speaks glow­ingly of his two meet­ings with the No­bel l au­re­ate, the sec­ond i n the Paris stu­dio/ sit­ting room, two months be­fore Heaney’s death.

Sadly, six of the Ir­ish peo­ple Pal­liser painted have since passed away. All the oth­ers have been in­vited to the launch of the ex­hi­bi­tion. Ma­hon has set­tled in Co Cork, but he is no­to­ri­ously shy. “When I asked him, ‘ Are you com­ing to the open­ing, Derek?’ there was a deaf­en­ing si­lence,” Pal­liser laughs. Face to Face, An­thony Pal­liser’s Ir­ish Por­traits, Farm­leigh Gallery, June 1st- Septem­ber 1st, 2018. Farm­leigh will also host nine lec­tures and events cen­tred on por­trai­ture and the cul­tural scene at Lug­gala, ev­ery Satur­day be­tween June 2nd and July 28th

Clock­wise from left: Pal­liser’s por­traits of Brian Friel, Sinéad Cu­sack, Bren­dan Glee­son, Garech de Brúin and Sea­mus Heaney

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