Little Boy Playing at God signed and dated 'Gerard Dillon 45-6' (lower left) oil on canvas 51 x 76.2 cm. (20 x 30 in.)
PROVENANCE: With The Waddington Galleries, London, where acquired by Mr. Lloyd Elkin Private Collection, France
Living in Ireland during the war, Gerard Dillon travelled around the country seeking inspiration for subject matter. Like Elizabeth Rivers, Basil Rakóczi and Seán Keating, the artist was fascinated by the Aran Islands. These early pictures from the 1940s reflect his own personal journey at a time in which Catholicism and Nationalist idealism were interwoven.
Annie Dillon, Gerard's Mother was a staunch Catholic who enforced her beliefs on all her eight children. Reaching adolescence, the artist struggled with school life, his Mother's religious rituals, and the social conservative climate in Belfast. In 1934 the artist travelled to London to seek employment, but also to enjoy an anonymous life, where he was free to explore attitudes to nationality, religion, and to shed prejudices of condemnation from the Catholic Church.
Keenly aware of the appealing nature of narrative in his painting, Dillon draws our attention to Little Boy Playing at God with a curiously disproportionate boy standing in front of a handmade wooden cross in a curragh. Nearby, a young boy kneels before him by a pool of water with his eyes closed. To the right, two girls huddle closely together to watch the scene. Opposite the girls, an older boy walks away from the group displaying a gesture of distain to the boy playing God. The curragh, of ancient origin divides the group symbolizing the children's future survival, which depended on the Aran fishermen's skill of nerve and dexterity for total self-sufficiency.
The artist held his first solo show in 1942 in the country shop, Dublin. Opened by Mainie Jellett, other works from this period are characteristically naïve and contain a Christian theme; Forgive us Our Trespasses, An Aran Funeral, and Dust to Dust. The images are depicted with humour in a simple and child like manner with disproportionate perspective to enhance symbolism often evoking a message.
We are grateful to Karen Reihill, who is currently researching the life and work of Gerard Dillon, for compiling this catalogue entry.