Lot 46
  • 46

JACK B. YEATS, R.H.A. | The Lonely Sea

100,000 - 150,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Jack B. Yeats, R.H.A.
  • The Lonely Sea
  • signed l.l.: JACK B/ YEATS
  • oil on canvas
  • 36 by 53.5cm, 14 by 21in.
  • Painted in 1947.


Sold by the artist to Leo Smith, Dublin, 1948;
M.J. Doran (Davy Byrne's);
Adam's, Dublin, 14 May 1976, lot 51;
Dillon Antiques, Dublin, 1986


Boston, Boston College Museum of Art, America’s Eye: Irish Paintings from the Collection of Brian P. Burns, 26 January - 19 May 1996, no.44, illustrated p.135, with tour to Dublin, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, 19 June - 25 August 1996 and New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, 25 September 1997 - 4 January 1998;
Washington, John F. Kennedy Center, Irish Paintings from the Collection of Brian P. Burns, 13 - 28 May 2000, illustrated p.104


Hilary Pyle, Jack B. Yeats, Catalogue Raisonne of the Oil Paintings, Dublin, 1992, Vol.II, no.854, p.769

Catalogue Note

'His paintings have that vitality which can only come from true artistry; they convince and vibrate with colour and movement showing an instinctively natural and unerring selectivity: Yeats was the true painter poet.’
(Royal Hibernian Academy, Annual Report, Dublin, 1957) A golden-haired child lies on the bank of a stream. He holds a pink flower over the water and gazes down at the reflection which is alluded to by a stroke of yellow beneath. A verdant hedge of green shrubs and wild irises closes off the horizon and adds to the intimacy of the scene. The boy’s engrossed expression, his serene face with wide set eyes and ruby lips, and the crouched form of his body are reminiscent of the Ancient Greek myth of Narcissus, in which a youth falls in love with his reflection and is punished by the gods by being turned into a narcissus flower. But in Yeats’s painting the figure seems to be less interested in himself than by the plant and the water. His curiosity is more about the world around him.

The poetic title, The Lonely Sea, may suggest the purpose of the experiment – the dispatching of a botanical specimen to the ocean but equally it indicates the solitariness of the boy. The golden-haired child is a recurring motif in Yeats’s later paintings. He appears in Tinkers’ Encampment. Blood of Abel, (1940, Private Collection), Above the Fair, (1946, National Gallery of Ireland) and Grief, (1951, National Gallery of Ireland). In Sea Depths, (1947, Private Collection), a golden haired boy looks over the side of a boat into the water.

Hilary Pyle has suggested that the child ‘proclaims his symbolic role for the artist’ and that his freedom to create and imagine are akin to that of the painter or the writer. (Hilary Pyle, op. cit., Vol.II, p.1064). In The Lonely Sea he exemplifies the visionary capacity of humankind and with his bare feet drawn up beneath him the child is also closely bound to nature. His flesh is sculpted out of rich impasto paint. The swirling forms of green and yellow pigment unite the figure with the surrounding foliage. His tousled hair is blown by the same breezes that rustle the leaves behind him. The outline of the shrubbery echoes that of the reclining figure, but the wild unsettled movement of light and shade, embodied in the range of brushstrokes indicates the tenuousness of the moment and the inability of humankind to prevent the onward march of time and the natural world.

Róisín Kennedy