2017-11-22-2018-10-15 --- 2018-10-15 10:03:06--18
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LOT :48
Jack Butler Yeats RHA (1871-1957)
Estimate EUR : €70,000.00 - €100,000.00
Auction Date : 22-11-2017


Jack Butler Yeats RHA (1871-1957)

The Boat Builder (1923)

Oil on board, 23 x 35.5cm (9 x 14'')



Provenance: Sold by the artist to Alfred R. De Lury, University of Toronto, August 1923.


Exhibited: ''Jack B. Yeats: Drawings and Pictures of Life in the West of Ireland'', Stephen's Green Gallery, April - May 1923, Catalogue No. 5; ''Paintings by Homer Watson and a Collection of Paintings by Contemporary Irish Artists'', Group Exhibition, Toronto Art Gallery, October 1930, Catalogue No. 44.


Literature: 1930 Exhibition Catalogue, Toronto Art Gallery, illustrated; ''Jack B. Yeats - A Catalogue Raisonne of the Oil Paintings'' by Hilary Pyle, London 1922, Catalogue No. 199.


A man seated in a súgán chair watches two men building a boat. A young woman in a red skirt stands looking on. It is a bright summer's day with views of the islands and coastlines of Connemara extending into the background. A traditional whitewashed cottage, evidently the home of the man and his companion, completes the scene. Yeats was fascinated by boats and boat building. In 1905 he visited Carna, Co. Galway with the writer J.M. Synge when the two men collaborated on a series of articles for the Manchester Guardian. Synge was also interested in boats and sailing and he devoted a section of one of his articles to the subject of boat building in the West of Ireland. Yeats supplied an illustration depicting the boat yard at Carna with a similar scene of two men working on the hull of a traditional local boat. The Boat Builder painted nearly twenty years later clearly recalls part of that memorable visit. Synge describes the process of boat building in this remote region. The timber was purchased in Galway and brought by hooker to the commissioner's homestead. A carpenter, a highly skilled craftsman, was employed to build the boat, a task that usually took six weeks to two months and for which he was paid two pounds. The carpenter or boat builder was assisted by a helper who 'must stand holding boards and handing nails, and if he doesn't do it smart enough you'll hear the carpenter scolding him and making a row'. The boat builder in this painting is clearly not the one described by Synge and depicted in Yeats's earlier drawing for he 'was rather remarkable in appearance, with sharply formed features and an extraordinarily hairy chest showing through the open neck of his shirt'. The boat builder in this painting is nonetheless presented as absorbed in his work, planning a wooden plank of the hull. His masterful pose is contrasted by that of his companion who stands with a board at the ready. The intricacies and skill of their task is a source of great curiosity as Yeats shows through the engrossed expressions of their patron and the young woman. The painting is an intriguing vignette into the social structure of Connemara life which was already vanishing in the 1920s when the work was painted. The detail of landscape and the simplicity of the setting add to the poignancy of the subject.


Dr. Róisín Kennedy


1. J. M. Synge, Complete works of J.M. Synge, Wordsworth edition, 2008, p.209. 2. Ibid, p.210.

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