The Hobby Horses signed 'JACK B YEATS' (lower left) oil on panel 23.2 x 36.2 cm. (9 x 14 1/4 in.) Painted in 1927
PROVENANCE: With Victor Waddington Galleries, Dublin, where purchased by the family of the present owners in 1942
EXHIBITED: Birmingham, Ruskin Gallery, Paintings of Ireland, 23 May-4 June 1927, no.8 London, Alpine Club Gallery, Paintings, 24 June-7 July 1930, no.27
LITERATURE: Hilary Pyle, Jack B. Yeats, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, Andre Deutsch, Vol.I, cat.no.353, p.320
The Hobby Horses depicts a busy fairground dominated by an enormous merry-go-round and the figure of its attendant in a flat cap. Hobby-horses recur in several of Yeats's paintings. The earliest representations of them were inspired by skating displays of Red Indians on hobby-horses which Yeats saw as an adolescent at the Crystal Palace in London in the 1880s. The theme of the hobby-horse reached its culmination in The Cavalier's Farewell to his Stead, (1949, National Gallery of Ireland), a theatrical scene of a man bidding adieu to his fairground companion. The Hobby Horses bears some resemblance to this work particularly in the prancing head of the horses which is similar to that in the 1949 painting. In the mid 1920s Yeats made a number of works in response to visits to travelling fairs in Ireland which is the context of this work. Such public amusements gave him the opportunity of portraying crowd scenes and observing the interaction between ordinary people and the extraordinary world of entertainment provided at such venues.
The painting dates to the period in which Yeats was moving from his early realist approach to the more experimental style of his later work. The dominant use of black, grey and brown tones is typical of this phase of transformation which features in his work of the late 1920s. The elaborately decorated centre of the carousel, painted in warm yellows and reds, offsets the otherwise muddy palette of the painting and radiates light out onto the crowd, expressed in bright yellow, red and blue hues. Yeats handles form and colour in a highly expressive manner. He conveys the structure of the merry-go-round through vertical lines of paint and builds up the interlocking forms of the crowd and the hobby-horses through a rich and complex structuring of pigment. The composition is dominated by the figure of the carousel manager who leans on the back of one of the horses. His yellow mask-like face adds to the strangeness of the scene and marks him off as a gate-keeper to the world of fantasy and escape provided by the machine over which he presides.
We are grateful to Dr Róisín Kennedy for compiling this catalogue entry.