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Market Day by Jack B. Yeats (1871-1957)

Market Day

Date: 1906
Dimensions: 35.5 × 25.25cm
Medium: Watercolour
Provenance: Purchased by public subscription from the Capuchin Annual, 1962

Fair days and market days fascinated Jack Yeats whose sketchbooks record the strange sights and characters to be seen at such events. This early watercolour features a stall in a country Irish town. In the background the quiet sunlit street is temporarily transformed by galloping horses ridden by farmers determined to get their business done and return to their work. The foreground is dominated by the covered stall, tended by a young woman in a large brimmed hat who patiently observes the goods. The latter is a remarkably eclectic collection of items which indicates both the comparative simplicity of the times and some of the main concerns of the population. Religious magazines, the linnet songbook and the book of fate make up the reading matter, while apples and jars of sweets provide edible treats. Among the other items a pipe and packets of tobacco are identifiable.

This very ordinary subject is transformed by the unusual viewpoint taken by Yeats which is really that of a potential customer standing beneath the strong blue canopy. The intense sunshine beams down on this structure and sends a strong blue tinge over the brim of the stall holder’s hat, casting her features in a strange blue shadow. The pole supporting the canopy divides the composition dramatically into two uneven parts.

Written by Roisin Kennedy

Jack B. Yeats (1871-1957)

Born 1871, London, United Kingdom.
Died 1957, Dublin, Ireland.

Jack B. Yeats was the youngest son of the portrait painter John Butler Yeats and the brother of the writer William Butler Yeats. Though he was born in London, Jack spent most of his childhood in Sligo in the care of his maternal grandparents. It was a place that influenced him deeply and he later said that every painting he produced “had a thought of Sligo in it”.

Jack studied in London at the South Kensington School of Art and later at the Westminster School of Art, though he was largely self-taught and had his own distinct style from the beginning. While still at school he was working as an illustrator and contributing to various publications such as Paddock Life, the Daily Graphic and the Vegetarian.

His early work, mostly in watercolour, focuses on the Sligo of his boyhood. These works display his emerging interest in the people and places of every day life- the market day, the sailor, and the races. In 1894 he married his fellow art student Mary Cottenham White, and they settled in England. He held his first solo show in London in 1897 and shortly afterwards he began to focus solely on Irish subject matter. In 1910 he returned to live in Ireland. The same year he began to contribute illustrations to the satirical publication Punch under the pseudonym W. Bird, and over the next 30 years he supplied the magazine with over five hundred drawings.

In 1905 Yeats toured Connemara with the writer John M Synge who had been commissioned to write a series of articles for the Manchester Guardian on life in the west of Ireland. This trip, coupled with his upbringing in Sligo, made an indelible impression on the artist. His wide-ranging interest in all of humanity led him to depict subjects ranging from street scenes, to boxing matches, the races, and funerals.

In 1910 he returned to Ireland and settled first in Bray and later in Dublin. He became an associate member of the RHA in 1915 and a full member the following year. He was a founder member of the Society of Dublin Painters in 1920, and in 1922 he participated in the Exposition d’Art Irlandais in Paris. He won the silver and the bronze medals at the VIIIe Olympiade in Paris in 1924 for the painting The Liffey Swim.

Yeats’ early paintings were in watercolour and he was over thirty by the time he began to work regularly in oils. For years his style remained essentially conservative, but in the mid-1920s a profound change began to take place. Yeats’s handling grew much freer, his forms were defined by brushstrokes rather than by line, his colours grew richer and more luminous and his earlier realism gradually gave way to a moody, intimate and highly personal romanticism. These tendencies grew even more marked over the next two decades, until in his final years when his subject-matter is sometimes buried and almost obliterated by rich impasto, bravura brushwork and flame-like areas of colour.

He exhibited widely in Dublin and London, and in 1932 held solo shows at the Ferragail Galleries and the Barbizon Museum of Irish Art, New York. He first showed with Victor Waddington Galleries, Dublin in 1943, and continued to exhibit there until his death. A major retrospective of his work opened at the Tate Gallery, London in 1948. Jack B Yeats died in Dublin on March 28 1957.



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