Jack Butler Yeats (Irish, 1871-1957) Island Men Returning 23 x 36 cm. (9 x 14 1/4 in.)
Lot 17* AR
Jack Butler Yeats
(Irish, 1871-1957)
Island Men Returning 23 x 36 cm. (9 x 14 1/4 in.)
Sold for £69,700 (US$ 112,494) inc. premium

Lot Details
Jack Butler Yeats (Irish, 1871-1957)
Island Men Returning
signed 'JACK B YEATS' (lower right)
oil on panel
23 x 36 cm. (9 x 14 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1919

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Mrs. Robert Gregory
    With Waddington Galleries, London, 11 December 1964, where purchased by the family of the present owner
    Private Collection, Canada

    Exhibited
    Dublin, Mills Hall, Drawings and Pictures of Life in the West of Ireland, 26 April-10 May 1919, cat.no.11; this exhibition travelled to Oireachtas and Belfast, 1920

    Literature
    Hilary Pyle, Jack B. Yeats, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, Volume I, Andre Deutsch Limited, London, 1992, p.115, cat.no.130

    Viewed across the edge of a stone quay two currachs set off through the dark Atlantic waves. Looking down onto the nearer boat, its structure of interlacing wooden slats is clearly visible. The simplicity of its construction adds to the sense of vulnerability of the three men as they make their way into the open sea. A second boat is turned vertical as it pushes through the swell, leaving a huge splash of grey seawater beneath its prow. Their destiny is the landmass that dominates the horizon. They are probably setting off from a Connemara harbour to the Aran Islands. The distance is not great but as J.M. Synge made clear in his widely read Aran Islands, the seas were treacherous.

    Yeats pays close attention to the water, turning the brushstrokes in all directions to evoke its power and inconsistency. This is matched by a similarly complex mixture of grey and white in the stormy skies above. The determined expressions of the sailors and their rigid grip on the oars demonstrate their skill and familiarity with handling the currach in these difficult conditions. The grey tonalities of the painting are relieved by glimpses of yellow and orange where the light reflects back on the waves and on the details of the boat, the men and the quayside.

    As can be seen in this painting, Yeats was both passionate about boats and about life in the West of Ireland. He visited the Aran Islands and Galway many times as a young man and in the period in which this work was painted. His sketchbooks record peculiarities of costume, strange sights and details of landscape and people. He was always fascinated by sailing and paid particular attention to the construction of the currach, the design of which changes from place to place along the West coast. He shared this interest with Synge, with whom he travelled in Mayo and Galway in 1905, and whose Aran Islands, he illustrated with a similar subject to this, A Four Oared Currach, (1906, National Gallery of Ireland). Island Men Returning was in the collection of Mrs. Robert Gregory, who was, with her husband a close friend of Yeats and Synge and in living in Co. Galway was familiar with the traditional way of life depicted so avidly in Yeats's work.

    We are grateful to Dr. Róisín Kennedy for compiling this catalogue entry.
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