Sheppard was born at Cookstown, County Tyrone to artisan parents from Dublin, and he was later based in Dublin for almost all of his life, having travelled widely across Europe. His wife Rosie died in 1931, with whom he had several children. They lived at Howth and 30 Pembroke Road in central Dublin.
His main influence was the Frenchman Édouard Lantéri who taught him at the Royal College of Art in London, and then at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art (DMSA) in Dublin (now the NCAD), where he later became a lecturer.
From 1902 to 1937 Sheppard taught sculpture at the DMSA, that was renamed the National College of Art in 1936 (today the NCAD). His annual stipend was £250 but for this he only had to lecture on three mornings a week, allowing him plenty of time for work on commissioned projects.
He was generally critical of the low standards of sculpture in Ireland: "For the last sixty years or so thousands of figures and groups have been executed in Dublin for ecclesiastical purposes, and, with one or two exceptions ... was not up to a reasonable standard. The making of a work of art hardly entered into it at all. The sculptor, well trained and properly encouraged, should collaborate with the architect."
Sheppard also exhibited works at European exhibitions in his lifetime, occasionally winning prizes.
- 1901; imaginary statue of "Inis Fáil", seeing Ireland as an "island of destiny".
- 1905; statue of a pikeman at Wexford, recalling the rebels in the 1798 rebellion.
- 1908; Another pikeman statue at nearby Enniscorthy.
- 1909; bust of the poet James Clarence Mangan in St Stephen's Green, Dublin.
- 1911; The "Dying Cuchulain" is Sheppard's most iconic piece, inspired in part by the success of "Cuchulain of Muirthemne", the translation by Lady Gregory of most of the Tain saga that was published in 1902.
- 1920; war memorials for the Irish solicitors and barristers who had died in the First World War (1914–18), which includes a bust of Major Willie Redmond.
- 1922, bronze plaque in memory of Dr. James Little at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.
- 1926; bust of his lifelong friend George Russell, best known as "Æ".
- 1930; busts of John Joly at Trinity College Dublin and the Royal Dublin Society.
- 1935; Aida, a bust now at the Crawford Gallery in Cork.
- 1935; Installation of The "Dying Cuchulain" at the GPO, Dublin, that had been the rebels' headquarters in 1916, at the request of Éamon de Valera, President of the Executive Council (prime minister) at that time. The statue has had a continuing impact, and in 1966 a 50th anniversary commemoration special coin was struck with an image of it.
Political influence and opinion
Sheppard was in the minority of Irish Protestants who supported independence, starting with support for the Irish Parliamentary Party in the 1880s, when he was an art student.
In 1890–1910 he was a part of the Celtic Revival movement, and, from his works such as Inis Fáil, was admired by his student William Pearse. Through him he met his brother Patrick Pearse who later helped launch the Easter Rising in 1916. While most of the Revival's artists were writers, playwrights and poets, Sheppard could claim to be the main sculptor working on themes similar to theirs.
After the Anglo-Irish war (1919–21) he said: "They thought me too old to fight but I have tried to help in other ways. My politics are simple. I have always thought that this country should be a free country."
Sheppard's opinions were not overly dogmatic, considering his work on the war memorials in 1920.
In the mid-1920s the first series of Irish Free State coinage was planned, and was finally launched in 1928. Sheppard was one of the designers short-listed but his designs were not accepted.
References and sources
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Oliver Sheppard.|
- Professor John Turpin biography
- Online biography
- John Turpin; 2-part article on Sheppard in the Dublin Historical Record (1995) vol.18, parts 1 & 2. ISSN 0012-6861.