The Toy Theatre by Jack B. Yeats (1871 - 1957)

Date: c. 1910
Dimensions: 27 × 37.5cm
Medium: Watercolour
Collection: The Niland Collection
Provenance: Purchased by Sligo County Library and Museum from Dawson Gallery, 1964


A young boy in an old fashioned costume is playing with a cut-out theatre. His youth is accentuated by his having to stand on a stool to comfortably reach up to the table. The theatre is like the ones that Jack Yeats designed and made in the early 1900s to entertain the local children in Devon where he was living at the time. A number of these plays were published and they feature similar stories of pirates and hidden treasure as seen in the one in this painting. Yeats had an abiding passion for the theatre especially for melodrama.

Behind the boy, through the window, can be seen a large house and beyond it a ship at anchor. This setting has been identified as Sligo where Jack Yeats would have spent many hours as a child playing in this solitary fashion with his mind full of the sea and nautical adventures. His grandfather, William Pollexfen, ran a shipping business in the town and Yeats seems in this painting to deliberately juxtapose the imagination of the child with the reality of the adult world beyond the playroom window.

The Toy Theatre painting has previously inspired one of our primary school collaboration programs (The Toy Theatre Primary Schools Programme). Young students from a variety of local primary schools were invited to take part, and with the help of some resources from “The Model” they were able to build their own small theatrical stages to perform and record a series of puppet shows that they wrote and directed themselves. You can view a showcase of the work they produced by clicking the link here.

Written by Roisin Kennedy

Poster available here

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