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Exhibitions at Cork Public Museum 2005

Joseph Higgins 1885-1925 Sculptor and Painter

Joseph Higgins was born in Ballincollig, Co Cork in 1885. His father was a teacher who was jailed for his part in the Fenian rising of 1867, and who later became a cooper at the local gunpowder mills. The family moved to Cork when Joseph was 14. He went to work at Newsom's tea merchants, and enrolled as a night student at the Crawford School of Art. There he trained in Arts and Crafts, specialising in wood and stone-carving and clay modelling, winning many prizes during his time there. His first portrait head was of writer Daniel Corkery, who encouraged and supported him throughout his life.

In 1910 he won the highest award of the Annual South Kensington Scheme for a study from life of a child in clay (Boy with a Boat), and also that year won several prizes for woodcarving at the Royal Dublin Society. Two years later his Study of an Old Woman (Nana) and Liam were the first of many sculptures (and paintings) that he exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy, then the most important annual exhibition in Ireland, where artists' works were chosen by their peers.

He was appointed art teacher in east Cork in 1913. In 1915 he married fellow Crawford student Katherine Turnbull, and they moved to Youghal. In an active life of teaching (travelling between Youghal, Fermoy and Midleton), he produced portraits of his own family, of neighbours, and of Youghal fishermen. He read history, poetry and fiction, built and sailed boats, and enjoyed the friendship of his pupils and the people of the the town.

Joseph Higgens 3 - General View of Exhib

General View of Exhibition

His work ranges from sculpture in marble, wood and bronze, through to oil portraits, genre paintings, and watercolours of the environs of Youghal. His interest in mythology (Daughter of Lir), the arts (Beethoven), and his dazzling portrayal in limewood of Michael Collins, demonstrate the breadth of his interests. Liveliness, a sense of drama and movement, balanced with sympathy and introspection characterise his work.

He died in November 1925 at the age of 40.


2005 was the 80th anniversary of of his death, and it was also the first time that his work had been brought together in a major retrospective exhibition. The exhibition ran from 19 October – 23 December at Cork Public Museum, Fitzgerald Park, The Mardyke, Cork.

Josheph Higgens Photo

Photographed at the Exhibition from left to right: Deputy Lord Mayor Cllr. Dara Murphy, Ken Thompson, Cllr. Mairin Quill, Stella Cherry, Museum Curator and Orla Murphy


A major book on the work of Joseph Higgins is being co-published by Cork Public Museum and Gandon Editions, and funded by Cork City Council. It features an essay on the artist by Peter Murray, and over 100 illustrations of his work. It will be available through all good bookshops (or direct from Gandon 021-4770830) and will retail at €30 euro hardback and €20 euro paperback.


Joseph Higgins photographed working on Boy with a Boat in 1910
Boy with a Boat 1910, bronze, 86.5 cm h (Fitzgerald Park, Cork)
Michael Collins 1922, limewood, 40 cm h
Daughter of Lir c.1923, bronze, 58.5 cm h
Liam c.1912, bronze, 45 cm h
Máighréad and Liam 1920, marble, 25.5 cm h
Nana or Study of an Old Woman 1910, bronze, 42 cm h
Sleep c.1914, marble, 43 cm h
Professor Stockley 1925, bronze, 51 cm h
Strachaire Fir c.1916, bronze, 42 cm h
Woman and Child 1920, bronze, 40 cm h

Josheph Higgens 2 - General View of Exhi

General View of Exhibition

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