Johnny Patterson Singing 'Bridget Donoghue' (The Singing Clown) by Jack B. Yeats (1871 - 1957)

Johnny Patterson singing ‘Bridget Donoghue’ (The Singing Clown)

Date: 1928
Dimensions: 59 × 45cm
Medium: Oil on canvas
Collection: Niland Collection
Provenance: Presented by James A. Healy in New York to Sligo County Library and Museum. In memory of his parents, John and Catherine Healy in 1966.

Description:

The clown was a figure of unending fascination for Yeats who, like other modernist artists, saw parallels between his role as an artist and that of the clown within the circus. This painting depicts a specific historical figure, the legendary Johnny Patterson (1840-89). Yeats saw him perform in Sligo as a child and he appears in a number of his later oil paintings. An acrobat and circus performer, Patterson went to New York in 1879 where he met with great success. After his return to Ireland he set up his own circus company, Patterson’s Great United States Circus. His writing and performing of his own songs, such as Bridget Donoghue, earned him the title of the Singing Clown. Patterson died tragically as a result of injuries sustained by an attack in the circus ring when members of the crowd reacted violently to his rendition of a political song.

Patterson is shown singing to a crowd in a circus tent. Beside him stand enthusiastic members of the audience who have come down from their seats to join him in the ring. Patterson is set apart from them by his elevated position and by his clown’s make-up and elaborate costume which was embroidered with shamrocks and Celtic harps.

Written by Roisin Kennedy

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