Yeats & Son
Sat. 22 Jul. – Sat. 9 Sep. 2023


“I paint because I am the son of a painter”

Jack B Yeats, 1948

This exhibition, which is drawn from The Niland Collection looks at the artistic achievements of two members of the Yeats family – Jack B. Yeats and his father, the portrait painter John Butler Yeats. Although both gifted artists, John and Jack were vastly different in terms of personality, painting style, and creative expression.

Jack Yeats remains one of Ireland’s most accomplished and critically acclaimed artists. Much of his work is deeply influenced by the people and landscape of his beloved Sligo. Jack lived for most of his youth with his maternal grandparents in the town, and cut his creative teeth on this experience of Irish life. The western characters he encountered in Sligo populated his works until the end of his life. While his subject matter remained the same throughout his long career, his style of painting, and the meaning imbued in his work changed drastically. His initial depiction of western life was marked by a strong sentimentality, which he expressed in watercolours (1898-1910). This gave way, in his early oil period (1910-1925), to the pronounced realism that he developed to make political and social commentary. In the later part of his career, another more marked development took hold. Jack’s subject matter became infused with a deeper mysticism and symbolism. His handling of paint became much freer, and he worked only with the primary colours. From 1930 to the end of his career, his paintings became wildly apocalyptic visions, which he described as ‘happenings’.

A gifted portraitist, the patriarch of the Yeats Family, John Butler Yeats was never to scale the heights reached by his youngest son Jack in terms of his technical or creative successes as a painter. As a man and as an artist, however John cast a long shadow on the lives and careers of his four incredibly gifted children. Hilary Pyle, the pre-eminent Yeatsian scholar, has identified the elder Yeats’ commitment to the development of his children’s ‘wide minds’ as a key factor in influencing Jack’s artistic career. John was an irrepressible intellectual who entertained many of the era’s creative thinkers in his studios. Jack would have come into contact with these key figures in the world of art, literature and politics in his youth. Through this engagement, he was surely influenced to adopt a creative path himself, and described the reason for his choice of career as “I paint because I am the son of a painter” to his good friend Thomas MacGreevy in 1948.

This exhibition includes a number of significant works by John Butler Yeats, which have been rarely exhibited publicly prior to their long-term loan to The Niland Collection in 2018 through the generous support of a private collector. Self Portrait, New York, was unfinished at the time of the artist’s death in 1922. What is most remarkable about this portrait, according to Hilary Pyle, “is its immediacy and physicality, and how colourful it is. The old painter, moving slightly, is undeterred at the sight of spectators, and welcomes us with the pleasure he always showed when greeting his sitters. The studio setting (his bedroom) may seem cramped, but light floods in through the window, transforming the ordinariness of his suit, and illuminating his mobile face. Having discovered how to represent himself with originality and to his own satisfaction, he has revealed the truly dedicated and intriguing personality he was.”

Books on both Jack and John Butler Yeats are available in our bookshop on the ground floor. Both exhibitions continue until 9 September.

A self-guided audio tour is available for this exhibition. Recommended donation entry to this exhibition is €5.00 for adults, please tap to donate.


Image credits: Jack B Yeats, White Shower, 1928, Oil on canvas. Image courtesy of The Model, home of The Niland Collection.


        Sligo County Council

Exhibition images


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