Gladys Maccabe was born in Randalstown, County Antrim. Her mother Elizabeth was a designer in the linen business, and her father George Chalmers, a Scot, was a former army officer and artist specialising in calligraphy and illumination. One of her ancestors was a famous 18th-century Scottish painter, Sir George Chalmers.
She had a picture published in the Royal Drawing Society's magazine when she was 16 years old and went on to study at the Belfast College of Art. In 1941 she married fellow artist and musician Max Maccabe (who died in 2000). Gladys and Max exhibited together on many occasions, starting in Ireland at Robinson & Cleaver in Belfast, 1942, and in England at the Kensington Art Gallery in 1949.
Gladys and Max were members of the group of artists known as The Contemporary Ulster Group, which included Dan O'Neill, George Campbell, and Gerard Dillon. William Conor was also an associate and Gladys painted his portrait in 1957 (now hanging in the Ulster Folk Museum). She formed the Ulster Society of Women Artists in 1957, as she felt that there was an untapped wealth of talent among the women artists of Northern Ireland. The Society's first major exhibition was in the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery in 1959.
During the 1960s Gladys was a fashion and arts correspondent working for newspapers and television. She was Northern Ireland Art Critic for the Irish Independent and the Irish News and wrote columns for the Sunday Independent, Leisure Painter and the Ulster Tatler. She was also fashion correspondent for the Belfast News Letter and BBC Northern Ireland.
Much of Gladys' work is concerned with the depiction of gatherings of people, whether at a race meetings, a fair or market, on the beach or in a shop. She has also painted o flowers and still life; and a variety of abstract works.
During the height of "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland in 1969, Gladys was moved to depict the scenes she saw around her at that time. In October 1969 four of her paintings were included in the annual exhibition of The Royal Institute of Oil Painters in London. These paintings were entitled Barricades, Blazing Warehouse, Petrol Bomb Sequel and Funeral of a Victim.
In 1989, a retrospective exhibition of her work was held at The George Gallery, Dublin. Entitled Gladys Maccabe, A Lifetime of Art, The Retrospective, the exhibition featured paintings dating from 1935 to 1989. She has also exhibited at the Paris Salon.
In 1961 Gladys was elected a Member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters; and in 1980 she was awarded an Honorary MA degree by the Queen's University Belfast. She is also a Honorary Academician of the Royal Ulster Academy, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and has received many other accolades including the 1984 World Culture Prize. Gladys was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to the arts by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 21 November 2000.
- Who's who in the world, 1978-1979. Marquis Who's Who. 1978. p. 595. ISBN 0837911044.
- Drawing From Memory – The Life of Artist Gladys Maccabe by Susan Stairs - ISBN 978-0-9534710-2-7
- The Irish Figurists by Susan Stairs - ISBN 978-0-9534710-1-0
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