Notes on a painting: ‘A Man in a Room Thinking’

Today’s blog is by our Projects Assistant, Lara Byrne, who explains how The Model was involved with the upcoming appearance of two Jack B. Yeats paintings from Graham Greene’s collection at Christie’s this Thursday, 11 Nov.

The upcoming sale of two late oil paintings by Jack B. Yeats by Christies, London has aroused much interest in international art and literary circles.

‘A Man in a Room Thinking,’ is a late oil, painted by Yeats c.1947. Initial interest in this small work began with research for Brian ODoherty’s co-curated exhibition, The Outsider, which will be on view at The Model from February to June 2011.

‘A Man in a Room Thinking’ was on this esteemed list, and the last provenance was Graham Greene, Paris. The curatorial staff at The Model contacted Greene’s agent in London and through his goodwill, the painting was tracked down to a vault in Switzerland. Greene died in Vevey, Switzerland in 1991.

The other Yeats painting on auction is, ‘A Horseman Enters a Town at Night’, known by Grahams’ family as the Ned Kelly painting. This larger work has never been exhibited in public and is a beautiful, dark painting, with flashes of vermillion and cadmium yellow.

Jack B. Yeats was always admired by writers; including Samuel Beckett and James Joyce who both had Yeats paintings. The circumstances surrounding the original sale of this painting have an interesting literary flavour. The painting was in Victor Waddington’s Dublin Gallery in 1947 and this was the same year that Jack’s beloved wife, Mary Cottenham Yeats died.

Also in the same year, the English writer, Graham Greene embarked on a tumultuous love affair with a beautiful American heiress Catherine Walston, although both parties at the time of the affair were married.

Greene’s love affair with Catherine also dated to the beginnings of his love affair with Ireland. Catherine owned a cottage in Dooagh on the Achill Island where they spent many summers together until the early 1950s and where Greene wrote several of his books.

Catherine was married to the English Labour MP, Harry Walston. Graham was married to Vivien, who he never divorced. In 1951, Graham dedicated his novel, ‘The End of the Affair’ to ‘C,’ and in the American publication ‘To Catherine.’ Catherine was described at the time, as a vivacious, society beauty and the love affair in this novel was to echo the real lives of Graham, Catherine and Harry Walston, which was made into a film by Neil Jordan in 1999.

Catherine owned a portrait of WB Yeats by William Rothenstein (given to her as a present by the director of the Tate, William’s son John Rothenstein) and it is highly likely that she influenced Graham into buying Jack’s paintings, as the sale of the work dates to the time when their affair began.

The affair between Catherine and Greene lasted over a decade and played out on in the West of Ireland, Ankor Wat, Paris and the Isle of Capri.
Catherine was a great friend of Earnán O’Malley and his wife, the American
heiress and sculptor, Helen Hooker. In turn, Ernie was a supporter and close friend to Yeats and the couple were both avid collectors of his work.

On March 25th 1957, Ernie O’Malley died and three days later, Jack died in Dublin, both their lives inextricable linked in life and death. ‘Death For Only One’ was shown in an important exhibition in Sligo in August 1963, curated by the inimitable Norah Niland. Today, the Niland Collection has over 25 important works by Jack B.Yeats and includes a considerable number of works by his father, the portrait painter, John Yeats, and a sweet portrait painted by Jacks’ wife, Cottie, who was also an artist. Today, there are over 300 works in the Niland Collection.

Ernie’s son, Cormac O’Malley is also lending the Yeats painting, ‘Death for Only One’ to The Outsider exhibition in February 2011.

The Model has also requested that the buyer of ‘A Man in A Room Thinking’ will allow this painting go on show on February 2011 for The Outsider exhibition.

This exhibition will be a chance to see a significant collection of the late great works by the artist together, in his spiritual home, Sligo and also the chance to mediate over works which were created with such obvious passion and in particular to one painting that played such an interesting role in a great literary love affair.