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Kathleen Trousdell Shaw: A Woman Among Men

We love disovering new things about the heritage and art collections in RCSI. Just a few months ago, we learned that the bust of Dr John Denham (PRCSI 1873) in our portrait sculpture collection was created by Anglo-Irish sculptor Kathleen Trousdell Shaw (1865-1958). 

Shaw's bust of Denham is remarkable not just for its exquisite detail but for the fact that it is the only bust in the historical art collections known to have been created by a woman. But why didn't we know this beforehand? When we talk about our painted and sculptural portrait collections, our focus has tended to be on the sitter. Who was this person? What was their contribution to RCSI or to surgery and medicine more generally? What does their portrait say about them? As we continue to interrogate our collections, however, this focus is shifting to include the story of the artists that created these pieces.

Kathleen Trousdell Shaw's artist inscription on the Denham bust is simply 'K.T. Shaw, 1889'. The significance of this has been lost for some time, and only came to light once again in the course of researching a new exhibition opening at the National Gallery of Ireland on 1 July, 'It Took a Century: Women Artists and the RHA' - a showcase of women's membership of the Royal Hibernian Academy as part of the RHA's bicentenary celebrations. 

Shaw was the first female sculptor to be elected as a Member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin. As one of the few sculptors included in this new exhibition, and with none of her work in the collections of either the NGI or RHA, curators approached RCSI to request the loan of Shaw's bust of Denham for the exhibition duration. While usually on display in the Atrium of RCSI's historic building at 123 St Stephen's Green in Dublin, Shaw's piece can now be viewed alongside the work of other women artists in the NGI until the exhibition closes in late-October.

Rather fittingly, 'It Took a Century' opens at the NGI during Deafblind Awareness Week. Shaw herself suffered from hearing loss from age 5 and was largely deaf by the time she was 17. Her eyesight also failed in later life, leaving her deafblind and able to communicate only through touch, tragically cutting short her artistic career.

Read more about Kathleen Trousdell Shaw in this great blog post by H Dominic W Stiles for the UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries.