Work by "the Greta Garbo of Ulster art", Derry artist and civil rights activist Shelia McClean, to go under the hammer

'SUMMER, BALLYMAGAN' By Sheila McClean ARUA  Est: £600 - £800
'SUMMER, BALLYMAGAN' By Sheila McClean ARUA Est: £600 - £800

The work of Derry artist and civil rights activist Shelia McClean is going under the hammer at Ross’s Auctioneers and Valuers as part of their centenary celebrations.

Over 350 pieces spanning across McClean’s career are being sold in an online auction at Ross’s Belfast rooms.

Born in Moville, Co Donegal, McClean was raised in Derry where she attended St Eugene’s primary school and Thornhill College before pursuing an education in fine art at Belfast College of Art.

She was taught by Romeo Charles Toogood alongside fellow students Basil Blackshaw and Cherith McKinstry.

Her early art education was impactful with Toogood’s loose and informal approach to representing the visible world, through naturalistic tones and impressionistic brushstrokes clearly influencing McClean’s own bold and atmospheric studies of the Irish countryside.

After receiving a Diploma of Fine Art in 1955 as well as an Art Teacher Diploma in 1956 she began teaching art classes at Rathmore Convent, Belfast, Lisburn Convent, Strabane Convent and her alma mater, Thornhill College, where she became head of art.

McClean’s first commission was to paint the Stations of the Cross for the church of St Pius X in Moville, an early example of her artistic commitment to the local places she knew and visited.

She returned to Derry in the early 1960s with husband SDLP politician Dr Raymond McClean. In 1968, she was asked to join the civil rights organising committee to design their oak leaf logo; her involvement in the committee represented a significant shift in introducing gender equality as an issue of civil rights.

However, it was not until 1981 that McClean began to pursue painting full-time and exhibit regularly. Notable group shows include the Royal Ulster Academy annual exhibition (from 1981) the Royal Hibernian Academy annual exhibition (from 1989), and the Banquet exhibition (1993).

The late Sheila McClean
The late Sheila McClean

In 1989, she was awarded Associate member of the Royal Ulster Academy. Her work was included in the Up & Coming exhibition (1993) at Sligo Art Gallery and was exhibited alongside Colin Davidson and Catherine McWilliams at the Basil Blackshaw & Friends exhibition (2000). Her solo exhibitions include the Gordon Gallery, the Cavehill Gallery, and Arts Club Gallery.

Past president of the Royal Ulster Academy, Joseph McWilliams, described her as "the Greta Garbo of Ulster art because her work was seldom seen but much sought after".

Describing her process of painting as "personal rather than purely descriptive, to preserve the life and integrity of the paint itself", landscape views became significant studies of self-expression for McClean.

Often she would paint outside in order to capture the moving weather and changing atmosphere of fields, hills, bogs, piers and coastlines across Inishowen, Moville and Ballymagan.

Her work is included in the National Self-Portrait Collection, Derek Hill Collection, Unison Collection, and The Thomas Haverty Trust, along with numerous private collections spanning Ireland, Britain, the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Holland and Germany.

This extensive studio sale represents the evolving styles of McClean, along with her attentive use of emotive colour and movement.