Vanston, Doreen (Dairine) (1903–88), artist, was born 19 October 1903 in Dublin, daughter of John S. B. Vanston, solicitor, and Lilla Mary Vanston (née Coffey), sculptor (see below). She was educated at Alexandra College, Dublin, and then studied art at Goldsmith's College, London, and under Roger Bissière (1886–1964) at the Académie Ranson, Paris, where her mother sent her on the advice of Paul Henry (qv). The Paris school had a definable, lasting effect, shown in her independent approach, her flair for primary colours, and the strong Cubist influence. She belonged, like Mainie Jellet (qv), Evie Hone (qv), and Norah McGuinness (qv), to what the critic Brian Fallon has called the ‘Franco-Irish generation of painters who looked to Paris’ (Irish Times, 16 July 1988).
In 1926, while still in Paris, she married a Costa Rican law student and took the name Vanston de Padilla. The couple lived briefly in Italy before settling in San José, Costa Rica, where she developed, in response to her surroundings, tropical, highly toned colours in her paintings. After the break-up of her marriage, which left her with one son, she returned to Paris c.1933 and studied with Bissière's friend André Lhote (1885–1962). In 1935 she was in Dublin to show seventeen paintings, mostly Costa Rican landscapes, at Daniel Egan's gallery in Stephen's Green. When the second world war broke out she was living in the south of France but escaped to London in 1940 and then to Dublin.
After meeting Basil Rákóczi (qv), an English artist also in Dublin to escape the war, she became associated with his White Stag Group, which he had founded in London in order to introduce subjectivity into art. The White Stag Group was the focus of new art in Dublin during the war years. Vanston showed with them for the first time in November 1941 at a group show of twenty-four artists, including Patrick Scott. Her painting for this exhibition, ‘Keel dance hall’, indicated that she had recently spent time in the west. The White Stag's most important event was the ‘Exhibition of subjective art’, held at 6 Lower Baggot St. in January 1944. On that occasion the Dublin Magazine noted that Vanston was the most effective of the experimental vanguard. ‘Dying animal’, shown at the exhibition, was a successfully realised Cubist work composed of semi-representational forms in bold colours. The following year her work was shown in London at the White Stag exhibition of young Irish painters at the Arcade gallery, Old Bond St.
After the war, in 1947, she spent nearly a year in Costa Rica, mostly executing watercolours, but otherwise she lived and worked in Dublin at 3 Mount St. Crescent. She showed five works at the first Irish Exhibition of Living Art in 1943; her prices then ranged from £13 to £26. In 1960, at the inaugural Exhibition of Independent Artists, of which she was a founder, she showed three landscapes and a painting entitled ‘War’. Independent Artists, the Irish Exhibition of Living Art, and the Oireachtas were her main showcases. She did not exhibit at the RHA. Her two landscapes at the 1970 Independent Artists show were commended by the Irish Times for their ‘vibrant, almost tropical colour, controlled with a distinctly French finesse and intelligence’ (19 Dec. 1970). In her last years she showed at the Figurative Image exhibitions in Dublin and she was one of the first painters to be chosen for Aosdána. In 1987 a number of her works were shown in a large exhibition, ‘Irish women artists, from the eighteenth century to the present’, arranged by the National Gallery of Ireland and the Douglas Hyde gallery. She died at a nursing home in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, on 12 July 1988. She is generally admired but has received relatively little critical attention, possibly because her output was slow, her works are difficult to trace, and she guarded her privacy – she refused to cooperate with the Taylor galleries, which wanted to do a retrospective on her in the 1980s. A watercolour, ‘Cow outside cottage’, was sold by de Veres of Dublin in September 1996 for the unspectacular sum of £280.
Her mother, Lilla Mary Vanston (1870–1959), sculptor, was born Lydia Mary Coffey on 16 May 1870, one of two daughters of the Rev. John T. Coffey (d. 1898), rector of Mogorban, Fethard, Co. Tipperary, and his wife, Lizzie Moulson (d. 1920), daughter of the Rev. George Nesbitt. She was educated at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and, as Lydia Coffey, exhibited a medallion at the 1898 RHA. Within a few years she had married a solicitor, John S. Vanston; she showed one work under her married name at the RHA in 1903. In 1907 and 1911 she showed at the Oireachtas art exhibition, where a bronze statuette was priced at £10. Between 1904 and 1921 she showed ten works at the RHA, mostly portraits and statuettes. A 1904 portrait was of the Gaelic League activist, Thomas O'Neill Russell (qv); Vanston was a member of the League and travelled regularly to the Gaeltacht in Achill, Co. Mayo. Her aim was to use art for patriotic purposes; she was associated with the Irish Art Companions, which was set up in 1904 to revive Irish art, and specifically to create an alternative to imported ecclesiastical statues. The group had a mill at 27–28 Clare St., Dublin, where they made their own plaster and cast mostly ecclesiastical statues, which they bronzed and tinted. A plaque cast made by Vanston for the Companions in 1907 was shown at the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland exhibition in 1910. Entitled ‘The lament of Banba’ or ‘Erin mourns for her dead heroes’, it was called by the Irish Times ‘one of the most beautiful decorative designs we have seen here for some time . . . it shows wonderful grace and freedom’ (11 Nov. 1910). Vanston was also active in the United Arts Club and suggested that it should subscribe to the German art magazine, Jugend, which supported young artists. This was approved by Jack Yeats (qv).
In 1925, by then widowed, she went to Paris, where her daughter was studying, and she exhibited at the Salon d'Automne. Over the next two decades she spent time in Paris but was back in Dublin at the outbreak of the second world war, being reputedly by then a Buddhist. She lived at 13 Herbert St. until her death at the Royal City of Dublin Hospital on 23 March 1959.