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Portrait of Susan Mitchell by John B. Yeats (1839-1922)

Portrait of Susan Mitchell

Date: 1897
Dimensions: 11.5 × 15.5cm
Medium: Pencil
Collection: Niland Collection
Provenance: Gift from Ms V Franklin in 1959

Description

This drawing was made while Susan Mitchell (1866-1926) was living as a paying guest and companion to Lily Yeats at the Yeats family home in Bedford Park in London. The future poet and journalist who would later work with AE on the Irish Homestead and the Irish Statesman made a very favourable impression on John Butler Yeats. He enjoyed her singing and her intellectual company. Susan also benefited from the experience of living in the Yeats household which was full of cultural conversation and interesting visitors. She later stated in a talk on John Butler Yeats that

‘In the home of Mr. Yeats I found myself in what seemed a wonderful
society, a society where ideas were raised above all other possessions
and where conversation ran on subjects, some of which I had indeed
thought of, but which thinking I regretted in myself …’ (1).

The drawing is a preparatory study for an oil portrait which was completed in 1904 and which is now in the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland. Susan wears a white blouse with an elaborate lace collar fastened with a brooch. Yeats has depicted her costume in loose cross hatchings while the sitter’s head and features are more closely delineated. The drawing conveys the immediacy of Susan Mitchell’s presence and it shares the same intimate quality found in other sketches of the artist’s daughters and close female acquaintances with who John Butler Yeats was normally at ease.

(1)Susan Mitchell quoted in William Murphy, Prodigal Father. The Life of John Butler Yeats, (1839-1922), Cornell University Press, 1978, p.207.

Written by Roisin Kennedy

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