“Life Above Everything” – Lucien Freud and Jack B Yeats

Back in 2016, the Irish Museum of Modern Art secured a five-year loan of 50 works by Lucian Freud. To house these works, the IMMA set up the Freud Project in the Garden Gallery in the grounds of Kilmainham Hospital, which has previously been used for temporary exhibitions. The project involves presenting

a series of different and exclusive Lucian Freud related exhibitions, with a new programme of events and openings each year. 

IMMA website

I went to see the inaugural exhibition in this series in March 2017 and enjoyed having the opportunity to view 30 of his works. This week I’m back over in Ireland with work and caught the early boat over on Sunday to spend the afternoon visiting the IMMA as I hadn’t been there for a while. During my visit I decided I’d take a look at the latest Freud Project exhibition – Life above Everything: Lucian Freud and Jack B. Yeats – which, as is clear from the title, features works both by Freud and one of my favourite Irish artists, Jack B Yeats. As is usually the case with these types of exhibition, no photos were allowed, so the images in this post are taken from other sources.

Photo Ros Kavanagh from IMMA website (Jack B Yeats paintings)

The IMMA website describes the objective of the exhibition

Exploring the affinities and interconnections between these two artists, this exhibition draws the work of these two stubbornly individual painters into dialogue, placing them side-by-side for the first time in 70 years. While Lucian Freud’s work has been exhibited in the past in group exhibitions alongside other artists from the ‘School of London’, Life above Everything is one of the few exhibitions to date in which Freud has been shown with a single other artist.

IMMA website

Jack Butler Yeats was the brother of the famous poet, William Butler Yeats. He was born in London and spent his childhood between London, Dublin, and Sligo, eventually returning to live permanently in Ireland in 1910. He began his artistic career, in the 1890s, as a black and white journalistic illustrator for various publications before eventually becoming a professional artist. He initially painted in watercolour, but about 1906 he began painting regularly in oil. His early paintings were rather conservative in style but in the 1920s there was a major change in his approach. He started to use bright colours and he began to paint with extremely free and loose brushstrokes with the paint thickly applied. The paintings became much more interesting, over the years becoming more and more abstract and Expressionist in style.

Although Freud and Yeats could both be considered as figurative painters, their styles were very different – particularly when referencing Yeats’ later works. So pairing the two artists in this way isn’t a particularly obvious thing to do. But it was interesting to have the opportunity to “compare and contrast”.

Apparently Freud

had a lifelong interest in the Irish painter’s work, holding a deep admiration for its force and energy. He did not cite Yeats as an ‘influence’ but instead seems to have felt a common purpose with his originality and independence, his continuous searching observation, and his sense of the connection between painting and life. A pen and ink drawing by Yeats, The Dancing Stevedores (c.1900), hung beside Freud’s bed for over 20 years.

IMMA website

The exhibition includes 33 paintings by Freud and 24 by Yeats on two floors of the Garden Gallery, with a good selection of drawings and works on paper by both artists in the basement.

Photo Ros Kavanagh from IMMA website
Photo Ros Kavanagh from IMMA website

I’d seen most, if not all, of the works by Freud previously during my visit to the inaugural exhibition back in 2017 – and Manchester City Art Gallery had loaned a painting I’ve seen many times before, Girl with a Beret (1951-52). However, although I’ve seen the sizeable collection of Yeats’ paintings at both the Irish National Gallery and the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, I was particularly keen to have a good look at his works included in this exhibition, most of which I’d never seen before. Many were from his later period painted in his wild, colourful expressionist style where the figures of people and horses are almost just suggested. I wasn’t disappointed.

Paintings I particularly liked included one on loan from the Tate

The Two Travellers 1942 Jack Butler Yeats 1871-1957 Purchased 1946 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05660

the curiously named ‘Left, Left / We Left Our Name / On the Road / On the Road / On the Famous Road / On the Famous Road / On the Famous Road / Of Fame.’ and several paintings which included horses, a favourite subject of the Irishman, including The Flapping Meeting (1926) and White Shower (1928).

I doubt I’d have paid the entrance fee to see the Freud paintings again, but it was worth it to see those fantastic paintings by Jack B Yeats.

2 thoughts on ““Life Above Everything” – Lucien Freud and Jack B Yeats

  1. Looks like a great show. I love Freud, but didn’t know about Yeats (or that his parents were stuck when it came to middle names). The example of his work you shared is quite nice. Has a wee bit of Soutine about it, too. Googled him. Interesting work.

    • I don’t think JBY is that well known outside Ireland. Freud liked him enough to have one of his drawings hung is bedroom though. I think your comparison with Soutine is pertinent.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.