Campbell, Christopher (1908–72), painter and stained-glass artist, was born 9 December 1908 in Dublin, fourth of five sons of John Campbell, carpenter, of 18 Hardwicke St., Dublin, and Ellen Campbell (née Farrell). He also had three sisters, and a younger brother Laurence (below). His father died when Christopher was a child, and he was educated at the CBS at St Mary's Place, Dublin, and at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, where he studied painting under George Atkinson and Patrick Touhy (qv). The influence of the latter can be seen in Campbell's work in terms of his sensitive use of line and in his handling of paint. His characteristic mastery of line can be seen in his work as a designer of stained glass, in which capacity he worked in the Harry Clarke (qv) studios during the 1930s.
Beginning in the 1930s Campbell produced many self-portraits, both paintings and drawings. An example, dating to 1939, is to be found in the National Self-Portrait collection at the University of Limerick. Here his pose and gesture are given emphasis by the use of a strong black outline, which also serves to define areas of intense colour as Campbell creates a striking contrast between blue and red in his clothing. Detailed modelling in light and shade is reserved for the hands and face, conveying an air of intensity about the sitter. His accomplished handling of line and colour mark a significant contribution to portraiture in Ireland at this period. Campbell also worked as an illustrator, contributing work to the Capuchin Annual (1953–69). Earlier (1947–51) he taught art at the Kilkenny technical school.
Campbell first exhibited at the RHA in 1920, and between 1930 and 1971 regularly submitted subject paintings, designs for stained glass, drawings, and portraits from an address at Brian Road, Clontarf, Dublin. From 1958 his exhibits consisted almost entirely of designs for stained glass, executed in watercolour. He exhibited at the Academy of Christian Art exhibition in Dublin (1941) and at the Munster Fine Art Club exhibition (1942).
Campbell died unmarried in Dublin in 1972. In 1976 an exhibition of his work was held at the Neptune gallery, South William St., Dublin, which included ‘The flaying of Jesus’. Executed in watercolour and crayon and dated 1930, it was awarded first prize in the National art competition at the RDS. Works by Campbell can be found in the Ulster Museum, Belfast, Dublin City Gallery the Hugh Lane, Tiraun church, Belmullet, Co. Mayo, and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, Co. Louth, and in private collections.
His younger brother, Laurence Campbell (1911–64), sculptor, was born in Dublin, was educated at the CBS, St Mary's Place, and served an apprenticeship as a stonecarver with Sharpe & Emlys, monumental sculptors, of Great Brunswick St. In 1927 he began his studies at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art under Oliver Sheppard (qv), initially attending classes at night. In 1933, while still a student, he executed a bust of Maud Gonne MacBride (qv), latterly in Dublin City Gallery the Hugh Lane. He was awarded the Taylor scholarship in 1935, and the following year won the Henry Higgins travelling scholarship. This enabled him to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm under Nils Sjorsen (1894–1952) and in Paris at the Academy Ranson, where he received instruction from Aristide Maillol (1861–1944). His travels at this time also took him to Italy, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. A rare example of a painting by Campbell, ‘Pont de l'Alma, Paris’ (Waterford Municipal Art Collection), was painted soon after he returned to Ireland in October 1939.
On his return to Dublin, Campbell was appointed acting professor of sculpture at the National College of Art, the post having been left vacant by the departure of Friedrich Herkner for Germany. During his time as acting professor, Campbell was responsible for the revival of stone carving within the college and so exerted an important influence on students of the time such as Domhnall Ó Murchadha (d. 1991). He resigned from the college in 1946. In 1940 Campbell was elected a member of the RHA; he became keeper the following year. Between 1930 and 1955 he exhibited regularly at the annual RHA exhibition. In 1943 he was a member of the executive committee of the Irish Exhibition of Living Art.
Notable portraits by Campbell include bronze plaques depicting Kevin O'Higgins (qv), Arthur Griffith (qv), and Michael Collins (qv) on the cenotaph which was situated at Leinster Lawn. Campbell exhibited the Collins plaque at the RHA in 1951. His memorial (1943) to Seán Heuston (qv) is in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. He also sculpted busts of Melanie Le Brocquy, Michael Scott (qv), and Jack B. Yeats (qv). His portrait of William McNeely (1888–1963), bishop of Raphoe, was well received when exhibited at the RHA in 1946.
Campbell also executed architectural reliefs, such as the two limestone panels (c.1940–43) depicting Industry and Commerce on the facade of Marino vocational school, Dublin. His triptych ‘Mother Éire’ was commissioned c.1939 by Michael Scott for the facade of the Theatre Royal, Dublin. Though the building has since been demolished, these panels are now in a private collection. Panels depicting the history of the milling and baking trades, designed by Campbell for the headquarters of the Irish Bakers and Confectioners Workers Union, were lost in the demolition of the building on Harcourt Street in 1988, as were murals by Nano Reid (qv). He also designed the ‘Ré na Práinne’ medal, presented for service to the nation during the years 1939–45, which shows the figure of Ireland with her hounds.
Religious works comprised an important aspect of Campbell's output. Examples of his work in wood include carvings of the Virgin and Child and St Joseph (1948) in the collection of the Jesuit retreat house, Tullamore, Co. Offaly. His work can also be found in the church of Adam and Eve, Dublin. The influence of modernism can be detected in Campbell's work even before he studied abroad; for example, his ‘Mother and child’ (1933, private collection), shows his awareness of cubism. With his emphasis on the nature of his materials and a consequent move away from naturalism to a greater stylisation, Campbell, along with such figures as Oisín Kelly (qv) and Hilary Heron (qv), can be seen as heralding the emergence of modernism in Irish sculpture.
Little is known of the later years of Campbell's life. In the 1950s he had a studio in Ballsbridge, Dublin. Subsequently he went to the USA, where his last known address was the Deprato Statuary, Chicago.