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Jack Butler Yeats Picture for Dublin Auction

The estate of Theo Snoddy, the esteemed Irish art critic and author (1922-2008), will sell ‘The Saw Sharpener’ by Jack Butler Yeats for £60,000 to £80,000 (approx €65,000-85,000) through Bonhams in association with James Adam’s in Dublin on May 27th in an auction of Important Irish Art.

yeats.jpgThis fine oil by Jack B. Yeats (1871 –1957) dating from 1917 presents a rare opportunity to acquire an early and striking work by one of Ireland’s most formidable artists, accompanied by superb provenance. Despite his position as the most important Irish artist of the twentieth century – and the first to sell for over £1m – Yeats took no pupils and allowed no one watch him work, so he remains a unique and enigmatic figure.

He was the youngest son of Irish portraitist John Butler Yeats, and the brother of the Nobel Prize winning poet William Butler Yeats, both of whom fully acknowledged all his talents. Indeed, his father recognized that Jack was a far better painter than he, and also believed that ‘some day I will be remembered as the father of a great poet, and the poet is Jack’.

Yeats’ early style was that of an illustrator and almost a cartoonist (he produced the first cartoon strip version of Sherlock Holmes in 1894); he only began 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 his boyhood home of Sligo.

Beginning around 1920, Yeats developed into an intensely Expressionist artist, moving from illustration to Symbolism. He was sympathetic to the Irish Republican cause, but not politically active. However, he believed that ‘a painter must be part of the land and of the life he paints’.

Yeats’ 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. He frequently abandoned the brush altogether, applying paint in a variety of different ways, and was deeply interested in the expressive power of colour.
When he died, Samuel Beckett wrote that ‘Yeats is the great of our time…he brings light as only the great dare to bring light to the issueless predicament of existence’.

Theo Snoddy’s contribution to the history of Irish art is substantial, having been an art critic for the Belfast News Letter for 30 years and author of the seminal Dictionary of Irish Artists: 20th Century. Essentially a work of reference and first published in 1996, the dictionary was, and continues to be, well received.

Brian Fallon in The Irish Times wrote, “This looks like becoming the standard work of its kind. I shall guard my copy carefully and shall stubbornly refuse to lend it out.” The Times Literary Supplement described it as a classic, praising its formidable research. Declan McGonagle wrote of the second edition, published in 2002 with 100 additional entries, that it is “not only informative, but also, curiously for a Dictionary, a good read.”

Snoddy was art adviser to Ulster Television between 1988 and 2004 and purchased works for the company’s art collection, the largest of its kind in Northern Ireland. He was involved in developing the collection for 15 years, and works from it have been shown in exhibitions across Ireland.

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