seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Artist Jack Butler Yeats

jack-butler-yeatsJohn “Jack” Butler Yeats, artist, Olympic medalist and brother of William Butler Yeats, dies in Dublin on March 28, 1957.

Butler’s early style is that of an illustrator. He only begins to work regularly in oils in 1906. His early pictures are simple lyrical depictions of landscapes and figures, predominantly from the west of Ireland, especially of his boyhood home of Sligo. His work contains elements of Romanticism.

Yeats is born in London on August 29, 1871. He is the youngest son of Irish portraitist John Butler Yeats. He grows up in Sligo with his maternal grandparents, before returning to his parents’ home in London in 1887. Early in his career he works as an illustrator for magazines like The Boy’s Own Paper and Judy, draws comic strips, including the Sherlock Holmes parody “Chubb-Lock Homes” for Comic Cuts, and writes articles for Punch under the pseudonym “W. Bird.” In 1894 he marries Mary Cottenham, also a native of England and two years his senior, and resides in Wicklow according to the Census of Ireland, 1911.

From around 1920, Yeats develops into an intensely Expressionist artist, moving from illustration to Symbolism. He is sympathetic to the Irish Republican cause, but not politically active. However, he believes that “a painter must be part of the land and of the life he paints,” and his own artistic development, as a Modernist and Expressionist, helps articulate a modern Dublin of the 20th century, partly by depicting specifically Irish subjects, but also by doing so in the light of universal themes such as the loneliness of the individual, and the universality of the plight of man. Samuel Beckett writes that “Yeats is with the great of our time… because he brings light, as only the great dare to bring light, to the issueless predicament of existence.” The Marxist art critic and author John Berger also pays tribute to Yeats from a very different perspective, praising the artist as a “great painter” with a “sense of the future, an awareness of the possibility of a world other than the one we know.”

Yeats’s favourite subjects include the Irish landscape, horses, circus and travelling players. His early paintings and drawings are distinguished by an energetic simplicity of line and colour, his later paintings by an extremely vigorous and experimental treatment of often thickly applied paint. He frequently abandons the brush altogether, applying paint in a variety of different ways, and is deeply interested in the expressive power of colour. Despite his position as the most important Irish artist of the 20th century, he takes no pupils and allows no one to watch him work, so he remains a unique figure. The artist closest to him in style is his friend, the Austrian painter, Oskar Kokoschka.

Besides painting, Yeats has a significant interest in theatre and in literature. He is a close friend of Samuel Beckett. He designs sets for the Abbey Theatre, and three of his own plays are also produced there. He writes novels in a stream of consciousness style that James Joyce acknowledges, and also many essays. His literary works include The Careless Flower, The Amaranthers, Ah Well, A Romance in Perpetuity, And To You Also, and The Charmed Life. His paintings usually bear poetic and evocative titles. He is elected a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1916.

Yeats holds the distinction of being Ireland’s first medalist at the Olympic Games in the wake of creation of the Irish Free State. At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, his painting The Liffey Swim wins a silver medal in the arts and culture segment of the Games. In the competition records the painting is simply entitled Swimming.

Yeats dies in Dublin on March 28, 1957, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.


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Artist Derek Hill Awarded Honorary Irish Citizenship

arthur-derek-hillArthur Derek Hill, English portrait and landscape painter and longtime resident in Ireland, is awarded honorary Irish citizenship by President Mary McAleese on January 13, 1999.

Hill is born at Southampton, Hampshire on December 6, 1916, the son of a wealthy sugar trader. He first works as a theatre designer in Leningrad in the 1930s and later as an historian. In World War II he registers as a conscientious objector and works on a farm.

Hill’s long association with Ireland begins when he visits Glenveagh Castle in County Donegal to paint the portrait of the Irish American art collector Henry McIlhenny, whose grandfather had emigrated to the United States from the nearby village of Milford, and who subsequently made a fortune from his patent gas meter.

Hill begins to enjoy increased success as a portrait painter from the 1960s. His subjects include many notable composers, musicians, politicians and statesmen, such as broadcaster Gay Byrne, Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek and The Prince of Wales. He is also an enthusiastic art collector and traveller, with a wide range of friends such as Bryan Guinness and Isaiah Berlin. Greta Garbo visits Hill in the 1970s, a visit which forms inspiration for Frank McGuinness‘ 2010 play Greta Garbo Came to Donegal.

In 1981, he donates his home, St. Columb’s Rectory, near the village of Churchill, County Donegal, which he had owned since 1954, along with a considerable collection including work by Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, Georges Braque, Graham Sutherland, Anna Ticho and Jack Butler Yeats to the State.

An exhibition of his work and personal art collection can be seen at the House and associated Glebe Gallery at Churchill, near Letterkenny. Another collection of his work is held at Mottisfont Abbey. Many of his landscapes portray scenes from Tory Island, where he has a painting hut for years, and starts and then mentors the artists’ community there, teaching the local fishermen how to paint. This leads to the informal but busy “Tory School” of artists such as James Dixon and Anton Meenan, who find that they have the time to paint and use their wild surroundings as a dramatic subject.

Hill is made a CBE in 1997. A Retrospective exhibition is arranged for and by him at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1998. On January 13, 1999, he is made an honorary Irish citizen by the President of Ireland Mary McAleese.

Arthur Derek Hill dies at the age of 83 at a London hospital on July 30, 2000. He is buried in Hampshire in the South of England with his parents. Memorial services are held for him in Dublin at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, as well as St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, London, and his local Church in Trentagh, County Donegal.


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Birth of Landscape Painter Francis Danby

Francis Danby, Irish painter of the Romantic era, is born near Killinick, County Wexford, on November 16, 1793. His imaginative, dramatic landscapes are comparable to those of John Martin. Danby initially develops his imaginative style while he is the central figure in a group of artists who have come to be known as the Bristol School. His period of greatest success is in London in the 1820s.

The death of Danby’s father in 1807 causes the family to move to Dublin. He begins to practice drawing at the Royal Dublin Society‘s schools and, under an erratic young artist named James Arthur O’Connor, he begins painting landscapes. Danby also makes acquaintance with George Petrie.

In 1813 Danby leaves for London together with O’Connor and Petrie. This expedition, undertaken with very inadequate funds, quickly comes to an end, and they have to get home again by walking. At Bristol they make a pause and Danby, finding he can get trifling sums for watercolor drawings, remains there working diligently and sending pictures of importance to the London exhibitions. There his large oil paintings quickly attract attention.

Around 1819, Danby becomes a member of the informal group of artists which become known as the Bristol School, taking part in their evening sketching meetings and sketching excursions visiting local scenery. He remains connected with members of the Bristol School for about a decade, even after leaving Bristol in 1824.

The group initially forms around Edward Bird, and Danby eventually succeeds Bird as its central figure. The Bristol artists, particularly the amateur Francis Gold, are also important in influencing Danby towards a more imaginative and poetical style. George Cumberland, another of the amateurs, has influential London connections. In 1820 when Danby exhibits The Upas Tree of Java at the British Institution, Cumberland uses his influence to promote its favourable reception. Danby’s atmospheric work An Enchanted Island, successfully exhibited in 1825 at the British Institution and then back in Bristol at the Bristol Institution, is in turn particularly influential on other Bristol School artists.

The Upas Tree of Java (1820) and The Delivery of Israel (1825) bring him his election as an Associate Member of the Royal Academy of Arts. He leaves Bristol for London, and in 1828 exhibits his Opening of the Sixth Seal at the British Institution, receiving from that body a prize of 200 guineas.

In 1829 Danby’s wife deserts him, running off with the painter Paul Falconer Poole. Danby leaves London, declaring that he will never live there again. For a decade he lives on the Lake Geneva in Switzerland, becoming a Bohemian with boat-building fancies, painting only occassionaly. He later moves to Paris for a short period of time. He returns to England in 1840.

Francis Danby lives his final years at Exmouth in Devon, where he dies on February 9, 1861. Along with John Martin and J. M. W. Turner, Danby is considered among the leading British artists of the Romantic period.