Summer Day

Maurice Canning Wilks

Maurice Canning Wilks (Irish, 1910-1984)

Summer Day (no date)
Oil on board
Gift of the Donald and Marilyn Keough Foundation.2017.052.004


Maurice Canning Wilks was a painter of rural northern and western Ireland, producing oil and watercolor panoramic landscapes and scenes of village life in Donegal, Antrim, Kerry, and Connemara. The son of a Belfast linen designer, he joined the Ulster Academy of Arts in 1935 and went on to exhibit at the prominent Victor Waddington Galleries in Dublin in the 1940s. While come critics found his work lacking in innovation, they admired its sincerity and technique—qualities that no doubt contributed to its consistent popularity. Throughout his career, Wilks remained rooted in the distinctive artistic traditions of the north. His mentor, the Impressionist-inspired James Humberg Craig, was a founding member of the school of northern landscape artists that emerged in the 1920s. Like Craig before him, Wilks favored close observation of the landscape and its meterological shifts, often returning to paint the same vistas again and again.

From the entry by Frances Jacobus-Parker on Summer Day in the catalogue for the Donald and Marilyn Keough Foundation gift. 
Cheryl K. Snay, The Donald and Marilyn Keough Collection of Irish Art, Snite Museum of Art, 2019.

Wilks' works are represented in public collections throughout Ireland, notably: Ulster Museum, Belfast; Office of Public Works (OPW), Dublin; Limerick City Art Gallery and in many private collections.


 Reflections on a Summer Day, by guest curator Kathleen Gavin:

This wonderful painting captures all of the beauty of the ocean off Wilks’ beloved Donegal. As someone who grew up beside the sea, I adore this painting as it evokes many memories for me of a childhood spent getting to know the sea through all the seasons. The characters perched on the rocks remind me of afternoons when, after school, my mother and other Moms would meet us, and we would go to the beach. We would happily munch on homemade goodies, baked freshly that day, and spend hours on the sunny afternoons climbing rocks, exploring the rockpools and creating adventures with sea monsters, pirates and finding hidden treasures, guided of course by imaginary secret maps. 


That early love of the sea has endured, and I still live quite near to the sea in North County Dublin. I visit the beach on most days and feel it pulls me like a magnet wherever I am in Ireland. I can never be away from it for too long and the sounds and smells provide comfort and calm even on the days when it is at its fieriest, thrashing against the shore, unleashing all of its power like a giant carpet bordered in white, unfurling onto the sand and stones. This painting captures a benign sea as does this photograph of the sea near my home, but everyone who knows the sea around Ireland knows also that the mood can turn quickly, and the capacity to read the moods of the sea is an essential skill for those who set to sea for work or pleasure.

As a musician I love the sounds and rhythm of the water and I have chosen the accompanying piece of music from The West Ocean String Quartet as the rolling rhythm reminds me of the waves breaking on the shore. Seamus Maguire, one of the founding members of the band, is an old friend who grew up in Sligo beside many beautiful beaches, perhaps he too has absorbed some of the soul of the sea in his music.

The melody featured here is "The Humours of Knockmeal" on their album Indigo Sky. It was composed by Neil Martin, who, like Maurice Wilks, is a Belfast native.

The West Ocean String Quartet - Seamus McGuire and Niamh Crowley on violins, Ken Rice on viola and Neil Martin on cello - formed in 1999 with the intention of exploring and celebrating music both traditional and newly-composed. Their repertoire is eclectic and unique and they have gained a reputation for breaking down the walls between traditional and classical music. The quartet has performed to critical acclaim throughout Ireland, including sell-out performances in Dublin's National Concert Hall and Belfast's Waterfront Hall, and has collaborated on stage and in the studio with many leading musicians.