Some Gallery Background.
I worked for 4 years with John Magee Ltd. in Donegall Square West, 1960- 1964,during my time there the gallery was refurbished and I had the pleasure of arranging a Colin Middleton exhibition for the reopening, paintings, gesso panels, drawings and watercolours.
The architect for the redesign was the late Robert Mc Kinstry and the catalogue foreword by Kenneth Jamison .The Studio Magazine of London in January 1963 were enthusiastic about both the new hanging space and the Middleton show. While at Magees I became involved with many artists, including the contemporaries who were to become Group 63.
Recently [ November 2012] I have had 2 online inquiries from North America, independent of each other , from relatives of John Magee and Mr. Walter Magee of John Magee & Co., later John Magee Ltd. Their particular interests, any information about John Magee's father, Adam Magee and his life in 19th century Belfast and his forebears.
Also, anecdotes of the founding of the business at 2 and later 4 Donegall Sq West Belfast would be greatly appreciated.
Sean Keating & Nelson Bell outside 3 Alfred Street
In 1964 I opened the Bell Gallery at 3 Alfred Street off May Street, one room and an office in an old family linen warehouse, not far from City Hall.
The opening exhibition was of paintings and drawings by William Conor, and there were to be two more exhibitions at the gallery before his death in 1968.
The second exhibition was, Landscape and Figure in Landscape, recent paintings by Malcolm Bennett and John Pakenham.
In 1965, John[Sean] Keating spent a couple of days in Belfast with me and my Father for the opening of his exhibition in Alfred Street, his only ever visit to the North. He was interviewed by Ulster Televison on this occasion.
With the possibility of development of the linen warehouse in 1967 I rented additional space across the street at no 4 Alfred Street where I had exhibition space, an Irish book room and framing workshop. John Bratby's first exhibition in Belfast was in these two galleries,later he had two other exhibitions with the Ball Gallery.
My many varied group exhibitions, solo artists and guest artists from abroad were well supported in Alfred Street..
4 Alfred Street Belfast, notice the grills & shutters
City centre bombings prompted a search for out of town exhibition venues to which clients might be inclined to attend!, one of these was the penthouse of the Russell Court Hotel [later to be a victim of bombing itself ] with an exhibition of oils by the London artist, Terry Lee.
Another out of town venue was the Stagecoach Inn, Derriaghy beside McGradys rose garden, for Christies Contemporary Art [later to be CCA], graphics by Henry Moore Elizabeth Frink, Barbara Hepworth, Sydney Nolan, and other names in British Art.
In 1975 the Gallery moved from the city centre to the University area, 2 Malone Road, opening there with an Action Cancer Exhibition arranged by George Livingston. During the following 6 years exhibitions were many and varied; some examples-
19th century watercolours by Andrew and William Nicoll, John Henry and Cecilia Campbell, etchings by Hector McDonnell, several James MacIntyre watercolour shows, oils by Cecil Maguire, a John Luke studio sale, sculpture by FE McWilliam, with the artist and his wife in attendance from London. More sculpture from Carolyn Mulholland and small landscapes by Alexander Dunluce found willing buyers.
Here too trouble was not far away when one August evening in 1979 two small case bombs were left on the window sills at the gallery. Later when asked, 'Was there much damage?' one reply was, 'Well the ceilings went up 9 inches and came down 6.'
With an understanding landlord and sympathetic builders we were able to trade on site for another year.
Castleavery, 13, Adelaide Park.
By 1981 the parking situation defeated the gallery goers at the Malone Stranmillis junction. A search produced Castleavery in Adelaide Park, which proved a very pleasant venue for the occupants and visitors alike, in what the arts reviewer, Ian Hill, called, Leafy Malone.
The twenty five years of exhibitions and private sales at this address to my mind reads like a very interesting wine list .
Three decades later I am buying back paintings still not past their sell by date, others appear at auction and achieve outstanding prices. All I can think is, Good Luck to the new owner, and, how nice it was to have sold it once, or twice.
Pauline McLarnon joined me in the gallery in 1970 in Alfred Street and friends and clients will know the part she played in this story.