Bridle, Kathleen (1897–1989), artist and art teacher, was born 19 November 1897 at Swalecliff, Kent, England, second of three daughters of James Bridle, a lieutenant and coastguard, and Janet Bridle (née Flower), a school teacher. Due to her father's profession, her family moved to many areas, including Gravesend and Winterton-on-Sea, before settling in Holyhead (1913). She was educated at home by her mother, but also attended schools, such as Winterton primary school in 1903. In 1910 she went to a private school in Ramsgate, where the art teacher recognised her talent. Enrolling at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art (DMSA) (1915), she lived with her aunt and uncle at 60 Upper Rathmines Rd. In 1917 she won a teacher-training scholarship, enabling her to remain at the school for the next four years. She won a prize for pictorial design (1917), and by 1918 had completed the certificate course in art. In 1920 she was awarded the Taylor scholarship for her depiction of the Greek myth ‘Leda and the swan’, allowing her to attend the Royal College of Art (RCA), London, in 1921. There she became a good friend of landscape painter John Hunter (1893–1951), who gave her the pet name ‘Pindi’, which she retained lifelong. She first exhibited at the RHA in 1921, a painting entitled ‘The checkered cloth’, and continued to show paintings there until 1939. Her enamel plaque ‘The mermaid’, completed under the supervision of DMSA teacher Percy Oswald Reeves (1870–1967), was shown in the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland exhibition (1921) and at the Galeries Barbazanges, Paris (1922), and won first prize in the enamel section of the Tailteann games (1924). Five of her landscapes were sold at an exhibition of paintings by Dublin students in the Stephen's Green gallery in 1922. She completed her teacher's diploma in 1923, and obtained a continuation scholarship. While still an RCA student, she taught night classes at the Elephant and Castle School of Art, London (1924–5). Her portrait of Norah McGuinness (qv) (c.1924), for which she won the George Clausen prize at the RCA, is expressive of her early traditional style.
Bridle worked as a glass painter at the Dublin stained-glass studios of Harry Clarke (qv), who introduced her to Sean O'Casey (qv), whose lodgings she acquired before his move to London (1925–6). In 1926 she moved to Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, her home for the rest of her life, to teach at Enniskillen Technical School; she also gave part-time tuition at the Collegiate Grammar School and other local institutions. An enthusiastic teacher, despite her hectic schedule she found time to paint, and was a major influence on William Scott (qv), giving him art lessons, showing him books on modern art in her flat at 8 Townhall St., and painting with him outdoors. She completed (c.1927) a portrait of Scott, and she exhibited a portrait of Hunter at the RHA (1927). At her first solo exhibition, held in Enniskillen town hall in 1928, she showed landscapes, portraits, and still lifes. Her painting of ‘The inner harbour, Holyhead’ was shown at an exhibition of Irish art at the DMSA, and she contributed paintings to the 1928 Olympic festival, Amsterdam.
In 1929 Bridle went on a walking tour of Norway; she visited Nice with Norah McGuinness in 1931. She helped with the formation of the Ulster Unit (1934), and contributed to their first exhibition. Exhibiting works at the Ulster Academy of Arts over many years (1931–49), she was elected an associate (1935) and an honorary member (1962). Her exhibition ‘Paintings of Fermanagh, Donegal, and Sligo’, held at John Magee's gallery, Belfast (1936), represented her artistic maturity, especially in the geometric landscape painting ‘Donegal town’ (1936). A holiday in Italy in 1937 gave her an opportunity to study the Giotto frescoes in the Arena chapel, Padua. She spent three weeks in Corsica in 1939, despite the approach of the second world war. Her work was included in a touring exhibition of living Irish artists (1943–4) organised by CEMA (Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts), where she exhibited until 1953.
As an art organiser in Fermanagh (1945–51), she encouraged teachers to broaden their art curriculum. She taught T. P. Flanagan (b. 1929) at Enniskillen Technical College until 1949, evoking his interest in watercolour; they painted together in Enniskillen, facing Lough Erne. Her second major exhibition took place at the CEMA gallery, Belfast, in 1947, where she presented Fermanagh and Anglesey landscapes. She had a solo show at the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery (1950), and showed works at the annual exhibitions of the Royal Ulster Academy (1950–79). A frieze depicting Enniskillen's main street, designed by her students for the Collegiate School dining room, was shown at an exhibition at Tyrone House, Belfast (1951). She contributed five paintings to the first Contemporary Ulster Group exhibition, held in Belfast in 1951. By this time she was living at 23 Eastbridge Rd, Enniskillen. In 1955 she was appointed full-time at the Collegiate Grammar School. Her extensive travels in Europe included Tuscany (1953) and Yugoslavia (1959). She participated in the 1957 and 1958 Contemporary Art Group exhibitions in Belfast, and thirteen of her paintings were shown at a solo exhibition in the Piccolo gallery, Belfast (1958).
On Bridle's retirement from the Collegiate School (1963), the Enniskillen committee of the Arts Council sponsored an exhibition of her work in the town hall. She taught part-time in the convent grammar school, Enniskillen, preparing students for examinations (1964). In 1969 she travelled by ship to New Zealand, where she painted ‘Path to Bridal Veil Falls, New Zealand’, an evocative handling of the range of plants in the tropical bush of the North Island. Visiting her niece in French New Guinea on the return trip, she painted ‘Calabash tree and roots at Mont Joly, Cayenne, French Guinea’ (1970), indicating her ability to represent diverse landscapes and climates.
She collaborated with Scott and Flanagan for a 1973 exhibition at the Arts Council gallery, Belfast, and made many trips to France and Italy during the 1970s. In 1977 she exhibited ‘Lough Gill’ at the Irvinestown arts festival. Her collaborative exhibition with Denise Ferran was held at Fermanagh county museum, Enniskillen, in 1978. She was commissioned to paint ‘The cathedral from the convent of mercy’ for St Macartin's cathedral, Enniskillen, in 1986. Retrospective exhibitions of her work were held in Enniskillen in 1986 and posthumously in 1998. Flanagan presented her with a self-portrait on her ninetieth birthday. In 1989 she made a final appearance at the Ardowen Theatre, Enniskillen, to view David Hammond's film, ‘Reminiscence by Kathleen Bridle’, made for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.
She died peacefully on 25 May 1989 at Lakeside nursing home, Bellanaleck, Enniskillen, and was buried in Breandrum cemetery. In her many Fermanagh landscapes, Bridle dramatically captures the beauty of changeable weather over terrain. ‘The east bridge, Enniskillen, in winter’ (1945), a vivid depiction of Inis Cethlenn, is in Fermanagh county museum, which also holds a portrait of Bridle in old age by Flanagan (1988). Her painting ‘Lough Erne from Rossfad’ (1945), regarded as a fine example of Irish watercolour, is in the Ulster Museum, Belfast (colour reproduction in Irish women artists, xxxiv).