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.


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


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.

Emil Nolde: Colour is Life at the NGI


A little while ago I developed an interest in German Expressionist art and am quite keen to see and find out more about it. So when I was in Dublin last Sunday afternoon, I decided to call into the National Gallery of Ireland to take a look at their latest temporary exhibition, which is devoted to the work of Emil Nolde.

He was born as Emil Hansen near the village of Nolde  in the Prussian Duchy of Schleswig, close to Denmark (and which had been the area disputed by Denmark and Germany in the mid 19th Century resulting in a war between the two countries). He changed his name to that of his home town, for reasons which probably reflect his political views (more of which later).

In 1906, he joined Die Brücke (The Bridge), the group of Expressionist artists based Dresden, but left after a year. He was a member of the Berlin Secession, from 1908 to 1910, leaving when he fell out with them, and  exhibited with Wassily Kandinsky’s Munich-based group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in 1912. He clearly was found it difficult to work with artists working in a similar style – possibly reflecting his politics. Many of the Expressionists were relatively Radical while he was a German Nationalist who joined the Nazi Party relatively early in 1920. And it’s this latter point which has attracted a lot of attention in reviews of the Exhibition. Can you like and admire work by someone who adhered to such views? Ironically, like other Expressionists, the Nazi regime considered him to be a “Degenerate Artist”, having his pictures removed from public galleries and forbidding to produce any work. Despite this he remained an ardent supporter with anti-Semitic views.

I hadn’t particularly read up on Nolte before I visited the exhibition and wasn’t aware of his obnoxious politics, so this wasn’t something I was thinking about during my visit (although I started to clock this when reading some of the information panels in the exhibition), and I viewed the works with something of an open mind. My impression was that he was a talented artist who painted some quite stunning, colourful pictures in both oil and watercolour, drawings, etchings, and woodcuts. The works on display included portraits, landscapes, seascapes, scenes of Berlin café culture, views of the River Elbe, and paintings and drawings from his travels to the South Seas.

As usual, no photos allowed and not many of the pictures from the exhibition are on the NGI website, so here’s only a limited selection.

Party (1911), one of his paintings of Berlin night life before WW1


A lithograph from a series of 121 identical prints of a young couple, coloured by hand after printing. There were 68 variations, using different colours. 4 of the prints were on display


Candle Dancers (1912)


One of several beautiful, dramatic seascapes – Ruffled Autumn Clouds (1927)


I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition. The bright colours and abstract style and the subject matter. the only paintings I didn’t particularly like were some of his religious works. For me, there were no real, obvious, blatant, reference to his political views in the works on display. Even the series of works from his visit to the South Seas as part of the German “Medical Demographic Exhibition” where he was meant to study the “racial characteristics” of the population, were sympathetic portrayals of the indigenous people.

So back to the difficult question. There are plenty of artists whose work I like who held views that were an anathema to me or where it has come to light that they committed some awful, horrific acts (Eric Gill comes to mind – he produced sublime work but abused his daughters). To some extent, Nolde’s support for the Nazis makes me want to dislike his work but I didn’t. There were plenty of other people who supported the Nazis too, who, like Nolde, were “rehabilitated” after the war. And, as I’ve already commented, I couldn’t see any blatant political reference in his work. So I’m not going to say I didn’t like what I saw, but reading up about the artist after seeing the exhibition certainly left something of a sour taste.




NGI Renovated and Renewed


During my visit to the National Galley of Ireland I was able to take a look at the older parts of the building that only reopened on June 15th. They’ve been closed for the past six years for extensive renovation works including building repairs, fire upgrading, environmental controls and improving accessibility.

First impressions were that the architects in charge of the project, Heneghan Peng, who were also responsible for the Giant’s Causeway Visitor’s Centre, had done a good job. All the services have been well hidden and the older rooms, which I remember looking tired when I last visited them, have been refreshed and brightened up. Windows in the Shaw room, that were previously covered over to facilitate the hanging of paintings, have been uncovered making it a much brighter space lit with natural light.


They’ve also created an airy, bright covered courtyard in the space between the between the Dargan Wing and the 1901 Milltown Wing


At one end of the courtyard there’s a rather beautiful sinuous wooden sculpture, Magnus Modus, by Joseph Walsh, made of olive ash with a Kilkenny limestone base. It was commissioned by the Office of Public Works on behalf of the National Gallery of Ireland.


Harry Clarke at the NGI

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The National Gallery of Ireland fully opened earlier this year, following renovations that have taken 4 years to complete. During this period most of the Gallery’s collection has been locked away in storage, so, although I didn’t have much time left before the gallery closed for the day after visiting the Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Paintingand Käthe Kollwitz exhibitions and listening to the musicians in the Performance Art event, I found some time to wander round the permanent collection.

The Gallery has a small collection of Irish stained glass so I made my way to the room where its on display and was immediately drawn to two stunning pieces, one large and one small, by Harry Clarke, a leading exponent of the Celtic Revival and of the Irish Arts and Crafts movement at the beginning of the 20th century. I’m a big fan of his work which I’ve seen at the hUgh Lane Gallery in Dublin and the Honan Chapel in Cork

The larger of the two works is The Mother of Sorrows


The  Gallery website tells us that this window

was made as a Memorial to Sister Superior of Saint Wilfrid, Principal of Dowanhill Training College, Glasgow. Following the success of Harry’s window, The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin, for the convent chapel at Dowanhill in Glasgow in 1922, the superior, Sister Wilfrid, ordered a further war memorial window to commemorate the victims of the First World War. The Mother of Sorrows was commissioned by Sister Wilfrid in 1926, based on the pieta (Bowe, in Christie’s website, Lot 86, The Irish Sale, May 17th 2002).
Due to Sister Wilfrid’s sudden death the window was erected in Glasgow on 24 January 1927 and became her memorial.

It was purchased by the NGI in 2002

The smaller piece, The Song of the Mad Prince, based on a poem by Walter de la Mare is particularly beautiful.


The song of the mad prince is an exquisite panel housed in a James Hicks cabinet. A small light at the back of the cabinet illuminates the panel. The panel is made up of two sheets of flashed glass; flashed blue glass is on top and flashed ruby glass is underneath.
The panel was originally made for Thomas Bodkin, Harry’s friend and patron.

Clarke’s work certainly is exquisite. Very much influenced by the Art Nouveau, Symbolist and Arts and Crafts movement with finely drawn figures, minutely detailed images and luminous colours. These photos, snapped with a mobile phone, really can’t do them justice; they need to be seen “in the flesh” to be really appreciated.

Käthe Kollwitz: Life, Death, War at the NGI

Leaving the Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting exhibition at the National Galley of Ireland I spotted that there was an exhibition of works by Käthe Kollwitz in the Print Gallery.


Käthe Schmidt was born in Königsberg, 150 years ago on on 8th July 1867  in what was then in East Prussia (today Kaliningrad, Russia). However she lived most of her life in Berlin where she studied and later married Karl Kollwitz, a doctor living for the half century in Prenzlauer Berg, a working class suburb of North Berlin and one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods. Her husband worked for a workers’ health insurance fund and often treated the working poor free of charge. Initially trained as a painter, Kollwitz began to focus on the graphic arts – drawing, etching, woodcuts – and sculpture. Influenced by the writings of Emile Zola, her subjects were ordinary people, the downtrodden and the repressed with a particular emphasis on the suffering of women. Her work is dominated by images of death, war and social injustice.


Self portrait

The couple had two sons, Hans and Peter. After the outbreak of WWI, Peter, who was only eighteen, volunteered for the German Army. He died on the Western front in 1914, soon after he’d arrived and this left an indelible impression on Käthe who had persuaded her husband to allow the 18 year old to enlist.

The exhibition features 38 prints and drawings from the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Germany along with two lithographs from the National Gallery of Ireland’s collection. It includes two of her print cycles, Peasant War and War, and a number of what are described as “honest” self-portraits.


The Plough from the Peasant War  series

Kollwitz’s dark images were a stark contract to the paintings I’d just viewed of domestic scenes from well off middle class life during the Dutch Golden Age. They portrayed the reality of life for people living in poverty, in harsh conditions and suffering the impact of war.  And although she worked during the first half of last century they remain relevant today. Her images of the impact of war could have been created in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and poverty still exists even in Europe and America.


The Prisoners from the Peasant War Series

As it’s the 150th anniversary of her birth there’s been a number of articles about her life and work. A number I’ve read question her political commitment and see her as an outsider, even something of a voyeur – observing the life of workers and their families but with no real commitment to social justice. Personally, I find that difficult to believe. Her work shows a passion that must be based on sympathy and a desire for change.

The Widow 1

The Widow I from the War series of woodcuts


An indictment of the social conditions in Germany during the late 19th and early 20th century, it’s impossible for anyone with a social conscience and a feeling for social injustice not to be moved by her stark black and white images.


Performance Art at the NGI


Just after I’d arrived at the National Gallery of Ireland on Sunday and was starting to explore (I had a couple of hours before my time slot for the main exhibition), when I wandered into the Shaw room, a rather grand large room close to the Merion Square entrance, it was clear something was going on. I could see a group of people with musical instruments who were clearly setting up to perform and several people setting up easels.


It didn’t take me long to suss out what was going on. Like most Galleries holding major exhibitions, the National Gallery of Ireland has held a number of events to accompany the Vermeer and Masters of Genre Painting Exhibition, and this was one of them.


Many of the paintings in the exhibition feature musicians and musical instruments from the Dutch “Golden Age”– virginals, lutes, harpsichords, violas and the like as well as singers. So the Gallery had organised a collaborative event – Performance Art – with the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) and the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). Musicians from the RIAM performed music from the Dutch Golden Age on instruments of the time, while members of the RHA had set up their easels so they record the scene live – sketching and drawing.


A good crowd gathered to watch the musicians and the artists at work. It was an enjoyable event and I stayed for a good hour, only leaving because it was getting close to my time slot to see the exhibition.

The musicians were Catriona O’Mahony playing baroque violin, Miriam Kaczor who played the recorder and baroque flute,


David Adams on harpsichord, Andrew Robinson, who played the viol and lute,


who also told us a little about the instruments and the type of music that was played during the Golden Age


and soprano Clodagh Kinsella.


The artists were Una Sealy, Blaise Smith, Cian Mcloughlin, Sean Molloy and Comnghall Casey. They didn’t seem to be at all put off by everyone watching them at work and taking photographs.



Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting in Dublin

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I’m back in Ireland this week and on Sunday I got up early to drive over to Holyhead and caught the 9 o’clocferry so I could spend an afternoon in Dublin. I was keen to visit the newly refurbished National Gallery of Ireland and take a look at the exhibition of Dutch Genre paintings that was coming to the end of it’s run.

I’d heard of this exhibition, which is a joint project with the Louvre and the National Gallery of Art in Washington and curated by Dr. Adriaan Waiboer, Head of collections and research, National Gallery of Ireland, when it was showing in Paris and I was hoping I’d have the chance to see it in Dublin. I thought I was going to be disappointed as a week’s work I had planned in Ireland was postponed, but when it was back on again it gave me an opportunity to see it before it closes on 17 September. Luckily I sorted out a ticket on the internet at the same time as I was sorting out my ferry as it sold out a few days before I arrived.

Vermeer’s name dominates the adverts for the exhibition, but the majority of the 63 paintings  on show are by other artists. However, 10 of them are by Vermeer – a fair proportion of his work as only 34 paintings are firmly attributed to him, with question marks over a further three. The other artists represented are his contemporaries, Gerard ter Borch, Gerrit Dou, Pieter de Hooch, Gabriel Metsu, Frans van Mieris, Caspar Netscher and Jan Steen. I’ve become more familiar with the Dutch Genre style ever since we visited Vermeer’s Women: Secrets and Silence at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge in 2012 and I’d seen, and learned to appreciate, a number of the paintings previously, particularly works by ter Borch and Metsu.


Woman writing (National Gallery of Art, Washington)

The theme of the exhibition is to

explore the fascinating network of relationships between Vermeer and Dutch genre painters of the period 1650 to 1675, and will give visitors an insight into how Vermeer and his contemporaries admired, inspired and rivalled each other. (NGI website)

The Netherlands is a small country and it would be ridiculous to think that Dutch artists in the same period and living in relatively close proximity wouldn’t know each other, be aware of each other’s work and be influenced by each other.


Woman with a balance (National Gallery of Art, Washington)

Each wall in the gallery takes a different theme – women writing letters, women with their backs to the viewer,musical duets, women with lutes, astronomers, lace makers, and even a woman holding a parrot. For each of these themes there are a small group of paintings by different artists and the audio guide and accompanying booklet outlines connections – who came up with the idea, who was influenced by it, how they changed the composition etc.

There wasn’t a Vermeer in every group, but when there was it tended to stand out. There’s something about his work – the composition, the more natural, relaxed posing of his models, the way he uses light – that appeals to modern taste. However, in some of the groups I preferred the work of a different artist. For example the group of men and women writing letters. This included Dublin’s own Vermeer and two paintings they own by Metsu. I actually prefer the latter. But these were exceptions.

I hadn’t seen six of the ten Vermeers in the exhibition and many of the other paintings were new to me. So a worthwhile visit from that point of view.


The Geographer (Staedel Museum, Frankfurt-am-Main)

As the exhibition was sold out I’d expected to be in the middle of a scrum and straining to see the pictures. But that wasn’t the case. The gallery space was quite airy and the number of people had clearly been restricted, making this a pleasurable experience. When a group were around a particular painting or group of paintings, after a few minutes they had moved on and it was posisble to get a closer look. And it was also possible to move backwards and forwards taking a second, third or fourth look at individual pictures.

So a much anticipated exhibition and I wasn’t disappointed. It was worth getting up early!

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


‘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


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

Over the years becoming more and more abstract


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


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.