Hector McDonnell Catalogue Introduction by John Julius Norwich

I have seen none of the pictures of the exhibition for which I’m writing this Introduction, and it doesn’t matter a bit. I have known Hector McDonnell’s work for so long – almost since he first picked up a paintbrush – studied it so carefully and love it so much that it’s almost as if I saw the whole lot of his pictures strewn around the dining-room table, with Hector chuckling to himself as he tries to get them into some sort of logical order.

This is not to say that his paintings resemble one another; they don’t. The light, for one thing, is constantly changing – indeed, I have known it to change within a picture while you’re looking at it. Sometimes it’s the soft, mellow light of an Irish afternoon, sometimes the harsh, unforgiving light of Italy or Spain – though this he nearly always relieves with healthy doses of shadow – sometimes the nacreous morning light of Venice, sometimes the misty, mysterious light of a Tibetan dawn. There are relatively few people – though Hector’s daughter Rose occasionally makes a virtuoso appearance – but there are lots, thank goodness, of open windows; often they remind me of what John Keats wrote to Fanny Brawne in 1819:

“I should like the window to open on to the Lake of Geneva – and there I’d sit and read all day like the picture of somebody reading.”

No one does open windows like Hector. But then no one does anything like Hector. There’s a sureness of line, a certainty of colour, that belongs to him and to him alone. We are lucky indeed to have him. I’m looking forward to seeing the new show more than I can possibly say.

John Julius Norwich