Portrait of John O'Leary
John Butler Yeats (1839 – 1922)
ArtistJohn Butler Yeats
TitlePortrait of John O'Leary
Dimensions11 × 16.5cm
ProvenancePresented by James A. Healy in New York to Sligo County Library and Museum. In memory of his parents, John and Catherine Healy, 1966.
John O’Leary was a favorite subject of John Butler Yeats. The National Gallery of Ireland owns three portraits in oil of him by Yeats and there are several drawings in existence, of which the Niland Collection is one of the most striking. O’Leary was arrested in 1865 for his involvement in Fenian propaganda. He was sentenced to 20 years. He spent nine years in penal servitude in England and the rest living in exile in Paris. Upon his return to Dublin in 1885, O’Leary was a member of the Contemporary Club whose meetings Yeats also attended and this was where he first sketched the impressive bearded figure of the Fenian. O’Leary’s gentlemanly behaviour and his knowledge of nationalism and cultural matters made a great impression on John and William Butler Yeats. WB regarded O’Leary as the ideal personification of Irish patriotism to which he later referred in his opening lines of September 1913, ‘Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, Its with O’Leary in the grave’.
The Niland Collection drawing was made in the home of Mrs. Alice Stopford Green, an historian and a passionate Irish nationalist. It is inscribed ‘John O’Leary, when dining with Mrs. Richard Green’. Stopford Green, the Irish born widow of J.R. Green, entertained significant literary and political figures at her home in Kensington Square in London, where this drawing was made. O’Leary along with Arthur Griffith and Edward Carson were regular guests. She returned to live in Ireland in 1918 and was made a senator of the Irish Free State in 1922.
Written by Roisin Kennedy