John Butler Yeats (1839 – 1922)
ArtistJohn Butler Yeats
Dimensions26 × 35cm
MediumOil on board
ProvenancePresented by James A Healy in 1965 (John & Catherine Healy Memorial Collection)
This small oil painting is a preparatory work for John Butler Yeats’s Self-Portrait which he worked on for the last eleven years of his life. It relates to the later and larger Self-Portrait in the Yeats family collection and another version in the National Gallery of Ireland collection, both of which were found in the artist’s studio at the time of his death in 1922. A pencil study for these final oil versions of the Self-Portrait is also in the Niland Collection.
John Butler Yeats travelled with his daughter Lily to New York in 1907 ostensibly for a short visit. After several months Lily returned to Ireland without her father who remained in New York for the rest of his life. Without any regular income the elderly Yeats led a precarious existence and relied on the support and friendship of his admirers in America. John Quinn, the Irish-American lawyer and collector, was undoubtedly the most significant of these. In 1911 he commissioned a Self-Portrait from John B. Yeats and the artist threw himself into the project producing several drawings and oils over the following years.
While the final versions show the artist at his easel in his room at the Petitpas boarding house, this head and shoulders portrait is quite different. Its dramatic composition consists of four quadrants with the head of the artist a fifth and central element. The strong yellow and greens of the upper left section are echoed in the light filled features of the artist who looks directly out of the painting. The gold pin of his necktie breaks up the intense black of the lower half of the composition. The almost abstract qualities of the design reflect Yeats’s exposure to modernist art in New York where he visited the Armory Show in 1913.
Written by Roisin Kennedy