Sheila McClean Studio Sale

Sheila McClean Studio Sale

Sheila McClean ARUA


Sheila McClean was born in Moville, County Donegal. Her father was a bus driver, and her mother was a house decorator. Her parents moved to Derry shortly after their marriage, where they raised Sheila and her seven younger siblings. She attended St. Eugene’s primary school and Thornhill College in Derry before pursuing an education in fine art.

In spite of holding generous offers from both St Mary’s Training College and Queen’s University, Sheila ultimately chose to attend Belfast College of Art, facing disapproval from her parents and her secondary school principal for its limited funding and lack of degree qualification. McClean was taught by Romeo Charles Toogood, alongside fellow students, Basil Blackshaw and Cherith McKinstry. Her early art education was impactful, not only in finding her artistic style, but also in her initial years as an art teacher. Toogood’s loose and informal approach to representing the visible world, through naturalistic tones and impressionistic brushstrokes, would later prove significant in McClean’s bold and atmospheric studies of the Irish countryside.

After receiving a Diploma of Fine Art in 1955 and an Art Teachers 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.

Returning to Derry in the early 1960s, Sheila and her husband SDLP politician, Dr. Raymond McClean, began raising their young children, Sheila and Sean. In 1968, McClean 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. 

As an artist, it would not be until 1981 that McClean would pursue painting full-time and exhibit regularly. 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.’ 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). 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.

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. She drew upon a nostalgia for childhood freedom and liberty through her evocative understanding of the personal relationship between paint and place. Sheila often painted en plein air to capture the moving weather and changing atmosphere of fields, hills, bogs, piers, and coastlines across Inishowen, Moville, and Ballymagan.

For her celebrated solo exhibition at the Cavehill Gallery (2005), the Belfast Telegraph reported, ‘McClean brings the paint to life and in turn the paint enlivens the landscape.’ Her attention to emotive value in textural and impressionistic brushstrokes was applauded by Derek Hill as ‘her paintings capture the Donegal we all feel in retrospect.’ 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, Great 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.
Ross’s, November 2023
Sheila McClean Studio Sale