28 March 1957: The death of the Artist Jack B. Yeats on this day. He was born in London in 1871 the son of John Butler Yeats. His younger brother was W. B. Yeats. His early years were spent chiefly in County Sligo and later in London where he studied at the Westminster School of Art. He initially settled in Devon with his wife and his first one-man exhibition was at the Clifford Gallery, Haymarket, London in 1897, showing chiefly Devon paintings. He moved to the USA in 1905 and had several one-man shows at the Clausen Gallery, New York in this period.
He returned to Ireland in 1910, living first at Greystones, then in Dublin. He had earned a living from sketch work for various publications as well as Exhibitions of his paintings. He took up Oils in 1913 and while schooled in traditionalist painting he was drawn to more abstract and impressionist works that soon became his forte. He applied his love of this kind of work to scenes of life in the West of Ireland, travellers and social events both rural and urban. From early youth he was fascinated by the Circus and worked that into his paintings too. A solitary figure he took no pupils and allowed no one watch him work, so his method remains a mystery. In later life he used colour to the full and cut down on distinctive outlines in his works that gave them a blurred but visually strong impact on the viewer.
While he was a successful artist in his own day, not just with the brush but also as an illustrator, playwright and novelist. Prior to his death in 1957, he began to be recognized as one of the foremost Irish painters and illustrators in the 20th century. But it is only in the last 25 years that his genius has been accorded the status of a Great Artist and he is now acknowledged as a figure of the considerable importance on the International stage in 20th Century Modern Art.
Amongst his most well known works are: Bachelor’s Walk; In Memory; The Funeral of Harry Boland ; Communicating with Prisoners; The Singing Clown and the Face in the Shadow.
Towards the end he described his Life as follows:
I have travelled all my life without a ticket, and therefore I was never to be seen when Inspectors came round because then I was under the seats. It was rather dusty but I used to get the Sun on the floor sometimes.
He was 85 years old when he died and still active until a few days beforehand. His funeral was held at St Stephens Church, Upper Mount Street and afterwards to the burial plot at Mount Jerome Cemetery. There were no flowers, only a single one the coffin.
Portrait by James Sinton Sleator (1943)