Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Jack B., the Other Yeats

The grave in my photo above is that of William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), author, poet and sometime politician. It is in the yard of a Protestant church in Drumcliffe, County Sligo, Republic of Ireland. You might well have heard of him.

But I'm not sure many readers outside of Ireland know of his brother, Jack Butler Yeats (1871-1957) who, like their father, was a painter (Wikipedia entry here and further biographical information here). I wasn't aware of him until I visited the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin a short while ago where significant space was devoted to his works, perhaps in part because he was appointed Governor of the organization in 1939.

Yeats earned a living by illustration and cartooning until he was well into his 40s, though he began exhibiting paintings around 1906, according to Wikipedia. By the 1920s, while in his 50s, his style became increasingly influenced by Modernism, though he never quite embraced pure abstraction, so far as I can tell from a Google search of his images.

Here are some paintings from various parts of his career.


Bachelor's Walk, In Memory - 1915
This shows flowers being placed in memory of a nationalist shot by British troops

In the Tram - 1923
The Liffey Swim - 1923
Two Dublin scenes painted the same year (the Liffey is a river flowing through the heart of Dublin). Yeats' style is becoming more free with less attention paid to shapes of the objects depicted.

O'Connell Bridge - 1927
Four years later, he features the Liffey again in a view from the main bridge crossing it. Further distortion of subject matter.

High Spring Tide - 1939
By the late 30s Yeats's style evolved to something like Impressionism where scenes were made up of tangles of brushstrokes of various colors.

Grief - 1951
Further evolution to the point that objects are difficult to distinguish at all.

Despite the great local attention devoted to Yeats' paintings, I found them unappealing messes, in particular those done from the late 1920s onward. But then, my ancestry is Irish at the very margin, so perhaps that's why I don't "get" his art.


Journeyman said...

The National Gallery Dublin is one of my favourite collections, though like you I wasn’t enthralled by Jacks work. But then I don’t usually enjoy modernist painters. William Orpen is much more to my taste and they also have a good collection of his work.

Thanks for the reminder, Dave

Mike said...

I like all of it with the exception of the last, which I agree is a mess. I'd even say that O'Connell Bridge and High Spring Tide are the most interesting to me. I like the color and the emotional feel of them.

AM said...

"But then, my ancestry is Irish at the very margin, so perhaps that's why I don't "get" his art."

Why are Americans like this? There's no genetic or ancestral component to art appreciation. The Irish have varied tastes like anyone.

Irish people do not consider you Irish unless you are born and raised here or come and live here for long enough to actually become part of the culture, and the American stereotype of what Irishness means is utterly cringeworthy and detached from reality.