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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Death of George Petrie, Painter & Musician

george-petrieGeorge Petrie, Irish painter, musician, antiquary and archaeologist of the Victorian era dies on January 17, 1866.

Petrie is born and grows up in Dublin, living at 21 Great Charles Street, just off Mountjoy Square. He is the son of the portrait and miniature painter James Petrie, a native of Aberdeen, Scotland, who had settled in Dublin. He is interested in art from an early age. He is sent to the Royal Dublin Society‘s schools, being educated as an artist, where he wins the silver medal in 1805 at the age of fourteen.

After an abortive trip to England in the company of Francis Danby and James Arthur O’Connor, both of whom are close friends of his, he returns to Ireland where he works mostly producing sketches for engravings for travel books including among others, George Newenham Wright‘s guides to Killarney, Wicklow and Dublin, Thomas Cromwell‘s Excursions through Ireland, and James Norris Brewer‘s Beauties of Ireland.

In the late 1820s and 1830s, Petrie significantly revitalises the Royal Irish Academy‘s antiquities committee. He is responsible for their acquisition of many important Irish manuscripts, including an autograph copy of the Annals of the Four Masters, as well as examples of insular metalwork, including the Cross of Cong. His writings on early Irish archaeology and architecture are of great significance, especially his essay on the Round Towers of Ireland, which appear in his 1845 book titled The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland. He is often called “the father of Irish archaeology.” His survey of the tombs at Carrowmore still informs study of the site today.

From 1833 to 1843 Petrie is employed by Thomas Frederick Colby and Thomas Larcom as head of the Topographical Department of the Irish Ordnance Survey. Amongst his staff are John O’Donovan, one of Ireland’s greatest ever scholars, and Eugene O’Curry. A prizewinning essay submitted to the Royal Irish Academy in 1834 on Irish military architecture is never published, but his seminal essay On the History and Antiquities of Tara Hill is published by the Academy in 1839. During this period Petrie is himself the editor of two popular antiquarian magazines, the Dublin Penny Journal and, later, the Irish Penny Journal.

Another major contribution of Petrie’s to Irish culture is the collection of Irish traditional airs and melodies which he records. William Stokes’s contemporary biography includes detailed accounts of Petrie’s working methods in his collecting of traditional music: “The song having been given, O’Curry wrote the Irish words, when Petrie’s work began. The singer recommenced, stopping at a signal from him at every two or three bars of the melody to permit the writing of the notes, and often repeating the passage until it was correctly taken down …”

As an artist, Petrie’s favourite medium is watercolour which, due to the prejudices of the age, is considered inferior to oil painting. Nonetheless, he can be considered as one of the finest Irish Romantic painters of his era. Some of his best work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Ireland, such as his watercolour painting Gougane Barra Lake with the Hermitage of St. Finbarr, County Cork (1831).

Petrie is awarded the Royal Irish Academy’s prestigious Cunningham Medal three times: firstly in 1831 for his essay on the round towers, secondly in 1834 for the now lost essay on Irish military architecture, and thirdly in 1839 for his essay on the antiquities of Tara Hill.

The closing years of Petrie’s life are devoted to the publication of a portion of his collection of Irish music. He dies at the age of 77 at Rathmines, Dublin, on January 17, 1866. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.