“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.

Jack B Yeats

Having spent a good hour looking at the Expressionist paintings in the Emil Nolde exhibition at the National Gallery, I decided to go and have a look at some favourite paintings by the Irish artist Jack Butler Yeats in the Gallery’s permanent collection, who, over his career, developed an Expressionist style.

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Many Ferries (1948)

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.

Jack 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 and, in my view, most of his paintings, although displaying a clear talent as a draftsman, were nothing particularly special. But in the 1920s there was a major change in his style of painting. 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 he is largely unknown outside his native country, the Irish National Gallery have a large collection of his works which span his career and which show how his style changed and evolved over time. Unfortunately, the Gallery doesn’t allow photographs to be taken of most of his paintings on display and only a limited selection can be viewed on their website. But in one of the rooms upstairs, almost hidden away near the collection of Dutch paintings, there’s a small selection of his works shown together with portraits by his father who was also a professional artist. Photography was allowed and these are the ones I’ve included in this post. The NGI is also the home of the Yeats Archive

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The Islandbridge Regatta (1925)

I’d parked my car in Fitzwilliam Square and returning later that afternoon I took the opportunity to have a quick look at number 18, where the artist and his wife moved in 1929, remaining there for the rest of their lives.

The Crawford Gallery Cork

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The Crawford Gallery is Cork’s public art Gallery. The main part of the building, built in 1724, was originally the Cork Customs House. Emmet Place, where it’s located, today is a wide street but used to be a harbour off the north channel of the River Lee. The gallery was extended in  2000, substantially increasing the exhibition space.

I visited it twice during my short stay in Cork – in the daytime and then during Thursday evening when it’s open until 8 o’clock.

They have a decent collection of paintings but not on the scale of the public galleries in Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds.

Outside  I spotted this Banksy style stencil on the wall outside.

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Inside, on the main staircase there was an attractive, contemporary stained glass work in the window.

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Unfortunately I didn’t make a note of the artist’s name.

At the top of the stairs there was a sculpture by the Northern Irish artist, F. E McWilliam depicting a woman blown over by an explosion during “the Troubles”

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Woman in Bomb Blast (1974) by F.E. McWilliam,

I normally associate McWilliam with abstract works, but this is very realistic. A little research revealed that this work

is the last and largest sculpture from a series called Women of Belfast which, he explained, ‘was concerned with violence, with one particular aspect, bomb-blast – the woman as victim of man’s stupidity’. Although they can be read as a metaphor for women affected by violence, these sculptures were McWilliam’s response to the Provisional IRA bombing of the Abercorn Restaurant in the centre of Belfast on 4 March 1972. The bomb exploded in the restaurant which was packed with Saturday afternoon shoppers, killing two women and injuring some 70 other people.

The Gallery’s collection spans the centuries from the 16th Century onwards. I particularly liked the exhibition of works by Irish artists from the AlB Art Collection which was donated to the Irish State in February 2012 and will become part of the Crawford Art Gallery’s permanent collection. These were some of my favourites

DSC02394 The cockle pickers (1890) by Joseph Malachy Kavangh

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Corpus Christi Procession (1880) by Aloysius O’Kelly

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A Race in Hy Brazil (1937) by Jack B. Yeats

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Blue Still Life With Knife (1971) by William Scott

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A Place With Stones (1979) by Patrick Collins

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Habiba (1892) by John Lavery

The gallery also has a collection of watercolours, ink drawings and stained glass by Harry Clarke whose marvellous stained glass windows I saw in the Honan Chapel a mile or so away.

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The Gallery’s website tells us

Clarke may be described as Ireland’s major Symbolist artist, whose synthesis of literary, musical, poetic and imagined visual images draws on a wide range of eclectic, sometimes obscure sources to produce an entirely original and idiosyncratic vision. This is as firmly rooted in the Yeatsian Celtic Revival and National Romanticism of late 19th/early 20th century Ireland as in European Symbolism, Decadence, and Art Nouveau of the same period, with the unusual extra dimension of consummate technical skill in stained glass.

The Gallery’s collection included a large number of cartoons – preparatory drawings on paper – for his masterpiece The Eve of St Agnes which is displayed at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin

Porphyro

and illustrations from Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe

The Fall of The House of Usher

Most of the earlier works on show and the temporary exhibitions didn’t particularly interest me, each to his own, and I didn’t intend to look around the large room full of casts of Classical Graeco-Roman sculpture. But on my second visit on my way out I popped into the sculpture gallery which is to one side of the entrance. I’m glad I did because tucked away on the wall in the corner was a large painting by Hughie O’Donoghue.

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Raft (2007) by Hughie O’Donoghue

The sketchbooks of Jack B Yeats

The Sketchbooks of Jack B. Yeats

One of the temporary exhibitions showing when I was visiting the Irish National Gallery last Saturday featured the sketchbooks of the Irish artist Jack Butler Yeats. The gallery has a large number of his paintings and a major archive consisting of  journals, photographs, manuscripts, other documents, memorabilia and his sketchbooks.

Yeats had assembled a collection of over 200 individual sketchbooks, 204 of which are held by the Gallery. By the late 1890s, these sketchbooks had become an integral part of his artistic practice and he drew regularly upon them for inspiration for both the subject matter and composition of his more formal oil paintings.

The displays covered the whole of Yeats’ artistic career during the period 1886-1953 including his time in Britain, his travels to Europe and America, . The books, which are pocket sized so that Yeats could carry them around with him, contain approximately 10,000 sketches.

Jack B. Yeats, 'Baggot Street Bridge'. © Estate of Jack B Yeats. All rights reserved, DACS 2012

Sketch of a tram crossing Baggot street bridge, Dublin (1901) (Picture source National Gallery of Ireland website)

Jack B. Yeats, 'Peterswell, Man with Sheep'. © Estate of Jack B Yeats. All rights reserved, DACS 2012

Sketch of a man with sheep on market day in Peterswell, County Galway (Picture source National Gallery of Ireland website)

The drawings on display reveal Yeats to be an accomplished draftsman and was clearly able to draft up a sketch quickly on the spot. Many of the sketches are simple monochrome line drawings created using graphite and ink. Others are augmented with crayon and watercolour.

 (Picture source National Gallery of Ireland website)

Given the number of sketchbooks it’s clear that Yeats used to carry them around with him and made sketches of things that interested him or took his eye. Many of the drawings would then be used as inspiration for his oil paintings.

The subjects of the sketches include his passions such as boxing and horse racing and everyday life in Ireland. But there’s also a political dimension – there’s a sketch of a man and boy hauling food to strikers during the 1913 lockout in Dublin and a corn workers protest march in London. And given his Irish republican sympathies it’s not surprising to see a portrait of Padraig Pearse and a large two page pencil drawing showing the aftermath of the bombardment  of Sackville Street and the Liffey quays in Dublin after the 1916 Easter Rising.

I enjoyed looking around the exhibition. The sketches contributed to a better understanding of how Yeats worked, particularly when considered in conjunction with the display of his paintings in the main exhibition. I’d really have liked to have another look but the exhibition finishes on the 5th of May, a few weeks before I’m due to make my next trip over to Ireland. The exhibition included a digital presentation on Samsung Galaxy Tablets which allowed visitors to browse through 4 complete sketchbooks along with some letters and photographs from the Yeats Archive. It would have been great if these could have been made accessible online. Unfortunately there’s only a limited selection of his sketches on the Gallery’s website.

Jack B Yeats at the National Gallery of Ireland

At the moment the older parts of the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin is undergoing some major restoration work so the exhibition space is restricted to the modern extension. This means that the Gallery has had to be particularly selective with the works on display. I think they have done a good job. They’ve concentrated on the “Masterpieces” from the Collection”, hung in two galleries; one featuring works from from the European collection, from the early Renaissance through to the mid-twentieth century, and the second room showing highlights from their collection of works by Irish artists. There were also a couple of smaller temporary exhibitions.

The room showing the Irish works included a display of several paintings by Jack B. Yeats (1871-1957). Although he is largely unknown outside his native country, the Irish National Gallery have a large collection of his works which span his career. The works in the current exhibition are a good cross section and show how his style changed and evolved over time.

Yeats initially painted in watercolour, but about 1906 he began painting regularly in oil. His early paintings were rather conservative in style and, in my view, most of his paintings, although displaying a clear talent as a draftsman, were nothing particularly special. Here’s an example

© Estate of Jack B Yeats. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2011

A Cleric, 1913

He was clearly influenced by the Impressionists. This one rather reminds me of the paintings by Degas, with whom Yeats had a common interest in horse racing

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‘Before the Start’ Galway Point to Point (click on image for link to larger, better quality version)

But in the 1920s there was a major change in his style of painting. 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, like this one, painted in 1923

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The Liffey Swim, 1923 (click on image for link to larger, better quality version)

Over the years becoming more and more abstract

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Men of Destiny (1946)

To the point where in later paintings it’s hard to make out what he’s depicting, rather like Monet’s later works from his garden in Giverney

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Above the Fair (1947)

Although he was born in London, and lived in England for a number of years, he was a passionate Irishman, and a supporter of Irish Independence. His subject matter included modern scenes of circuses, music halls, and horse races, moody landscapes of Ireland’s west coast, and themes from Irish mythology.

One of the temporary exhibitions taking place during my visit featured his sketchbooks. More about that in another post.