Honorary Conferrings Speeches Archive

    at Aula Maxima, UCC

  • 08 Jun 2018










Professor TOM DUNNE, Emeritus Professor of History in University College Cork, on 8 June 2018, on the occasion of the conferring of the Degree of Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa, on PETER MURRAY


A Sheansailear, a Uachtarain, a mhuintir na hOllscoile agus a dhaoine uaisle,

It is a privilege and a pleasure to present Peter Murray for the degree of Doctor in Fine Arts, Honoris Causa.


In 1985, the Cork Vocational Education Committee, which then had responsibility for the Crawford Art Gallery, made the remarkable appointment of a twenty nine year old from Dublin, Peter Murray, to run the gallery. It proved to be an inspired and transformative choice. After doing a BA in Art and Archaeology at UCD, and a Masters in Art History at TCD, Peter had spent two years lecturing in the National College of Art and Design, and the Crawford College of Art, but had no gallery experience. Those who got to know Peter in subsequent years will be sure that he did a brilliant interview, and was able to outline a range of exciting possibilities for the future of the Gallery. Young and untried as he was, he must have appeared ideal to lead the Gallery as a new era opened up, with the move a few years earlier of the School of Art, long located in the Gallery, to separate premises.

He inherited a Gallery housed in the beautiful eighteenth-century former Custom House, added to in the late nineteenth century thanks to the generosity of the brewer William Crawford. Through various donations and bequests, the Gallery had a fine collection of Irish and British art from the eighteenth century to the modern period, and was an important cultural presence in the life of the city, but had yet to realise its potential. Peter Murray was to transform it from a little known provincial gallery to an internationally recognised centre of excellence, and to designation as a National Cultural Institution, the only one so recognised outside of Dublin.


The first thing that Peter did was to catalogue the collection, publishing in 1992 a lavishly illustrated and highly professional book, which brought out the unique nature of the collection for an Irish gallery, in being both historical and contemporary. He was to make that duality key in developing the Gallery, and raising its profile.


Peter was to remain an art historian throughout his gallery career and the Catalogue also included his Dictionary of Cork Artists, and his remarkable Chronology of Cork Art, 1800-1900, both based on new research and still indispensable. They were to form the basis for many future exhibitions. It is also worth noting that the designer of this fine book was John O’Regan of Gandon, who was to design, and later to publish many of the Catalogues of Peter’s exhibitions, and indeed, to play a big part in their reputation for quality and ambition. This early period of assessment was also marked by the development of a great working relationship with the VEC, especially its CEO, Dick Langford (also, by a pleasing coincidence, an Honorary Graduand today), and his successor, Ted Owens. It also featured an important example of the community outreach that he has always considered important, in particular, Peter’s foundation, with his wife, the artist Sarah Iremonger, of the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh, in the former waterside premises of The Royal Cork Yacht Club. This has become an important locus for contemporary art, and offers a residency program for artists. Throughout his career, Peter has worked closely with the Friends of the Crawford, in publicising and promoting the Gallery’s work.

From the local Peter moved, it seemed effortlessly, to the international, in 1994, touring a major exhibition from the Crawford collection, Irish art, 1770-1995. History and Society. It was shown in five cities in the United States, including New York and Washington. As well as private sponsorship, this exhibition had the support of the Cultural Relations Committee of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, to which Peter was appointed the following year, serving for many years as its Deputy Chair. The catalogue included a range of essays, many by Peter himself, others by local art historians, notably Julian Campbell, an important collaborator throughout Peter’s time in the Crawford.


Peter has been remarkably successful in establishing working relationships between the Crawford and major galleries in Europe and the United States. Particularly important was the connection with PS1, the prestigious gallery of Contemporary Art in New York, which led to an exhibition featuring twenty outstanding contemporary Irish artists. It opened in New York, and moved to Buffalo, before coming home to the Crawford via Belfast. The show was called titled 0044, the prefix for a telephone call to Britain, drawing attention to the fact that many Irish artists had to pursue their careers there. The New York show coincided with the amalgamation of PS1 with the Museum Of Modern Art, putting the Crawford temporarily at the centre of the international art scene.


At the end of his introduction to the 1992 catalogue Peter signalled a plan to build new galleries to provide modern exhibition spaces for the Crawford.  When the 0044 show opened in Cork in 2000, it was in the splendid new wing, designed by Dutch architect, Eric Van Egeeraat, much of the funding coming from the Department of Arts and Culture under Michael D. Higgins. The opportunities opened up by these new galleries were seized on by Peter and his small but superb team, led by Dawn Williams and Anne Boddaert, and resulted in the extraordinarily ambitious and varied series of exhibitions that have marked the past eighteen years – all with world-class catalogues featuring exciting new art history essays, the majority by Peter himself. These began with a memorable exhibition of Picasso water-colours and drawings, on loan from Musée Picasso in Paris in 2001. In 2004 he began a historical series on Irish art, with George Petrie, the subject of his Master’s thesis. The following year it was James Barry, the History painter, Cork’s, indeed Ireland’s most important artist. This was the Crawford’s main contribution to Cork’s year as European Cultural Capital, and was its largest and most complex exhibition ever – indeed the largest of its kind in Ireland. It was a great academic success, its catalogue, and the associated volume of conference papers, featuring a stellar cast of Irish, English and American scholars, all lavish in their praise of the gallery. But it was also a great popular success, with amazing visitor numbers. I had the great privilege of working with Peter and his team on this exhibition, and on several of the large exhibitions that followed – the first major one on genre painting, or scenes of ordinary life, in Ireland, and called, with typical Murray flair, after the smallest painting in the show, Whipping the Herring: Survival and celebration in nineteenth century Irish art (2004). Another large show on an internationally renowned History Painter from Cork, Daniel Maclise, followed in 2008. Immediately after the Barry blockbuster, and in dramatic contrast to it, Anne Boddaert and Peter curated a very fine exhibition of Dutch landscape art, 1520-1920, Figure and Ground: Rembrandt to Mondrian. This featured loans from the Riijksmusuem – with another stylish catalogue from John O’Regan, and another erudite essay from Peter. He credits the Barry, Picasso and Dutch exhibitions as critical in the decision to transform the Crawford in 2006 into a National Cultural Institution, funded by Government and with its own Board, which was immensely supportive of Peter under the first chair John Bowen and more recently Rose McHugh. The previous year, in preparation for the change, Peter’s title was changed from Curator to Director. Since then there has been a further series of major exhibitions - some historical, like Portraits and People in 17th Century Ireland (2011), Sean Keating, Contemporary Contexts (2012), and his final exhibition, Stones, slabs and Seascapes: Victor De Noyer’s images of Ireland (2018). Others featured contemporary art, like Analysing Cubism (2013), and I believe in you, curated by Dawn Williams and featuring Mark Clare. Some combined contemporary and historical, like Terror and the Sublime: Art in an age of Anxiety (2009).  [c]artography(2007) charted mapmaking as an art form, while Gravity (2011) explored the relationship between art and physics. There is no time to do more than point to his many other exhibitions, his remarkable series of over thirty articles for The Irish Arts Review from 1987 to now, or his own exhibitions as an accomplished water colourist. But I am sure you will agree that I have shown enough to justify the award of Doctor of Philosophy, honorus causa to this exceptional Gallery Director and Art Historian – and so



Praehonorabilis Cancellarie, totaque universitas!

Praesento vobis hunc meum filium, quem scio tam moribus quam doctrina habilem et idoneum esse qui admittatur, honoris causa, ad gradum Doctoratus in Artibus Elegantibus, idque tibi fide mea testor ac spondeo totique Academiae.




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