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Details & Cataloguing

Yeats: The Family Collection

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London

Maud Gonne
1866-1953
ISEULT GONNE

Catalogue Note

A portrait by W.B. Yeats’ muse and sometime lover Maud Gonne – unquestionably one of the most importance inspirations for his lifetime’s work – of her daughter Iseult (1894-1954), fathered by the Boulangist politician Lucien Millevoye (1850-1918) and comprising ARTWORK PREVIOUSLY FROM THE COLLECTION OF W.B. YEATS.  Iseult’s conception, which occurred in 1893 in the crypt of the child’s tomb in Samoi-sur-Seine, Fontainebleu, had been planned as an attempt to reincarnate the lovers’ first child George, who had died in 1891. Iseult’s existence was concealed from her mother’s English and Irish friends, apart from her sister Kathleen Pilcher, her cousin May Gonne, and, after 1898, W.B. Yeats himself. Maud later married the Irish Republican Brotherhood man of action, John MacBride in 1903. After Macbride’s execution by the British in 1916 Yeats asked her for her hand again, and on being refused once more, became deeply preoccupied with Iseult, who was now a “fascinating (and strikingly beautiful) young woman of twenty-two, who admired him deeply; by 1917 the 52-year-old poet had become entranced by her, and that summer he proposed marriage, which she refused. He subsequently turned to another much younger woman: Bertha Georgie Hyde-Lees (1892–1968), known as George, whose mother was married to Olivia Shakespear's brother... However, Yeats' obsession with Iseult persisted, and his marriage to George on 20 October 1917 came as a total surprise to most of their acquaintance. It also brought him very near to a total breakdown. The triangle of women in his life (Maud–Iseult–George) recurs in his poems of the time... he was also deeply affected by the repetition of a pattern set in the 1890s, when he had been torn between his affair with Shakespear and the unattainable but disruptive image of Gonne." (Roy Foster, Oxford DNB). Iseult later married a younger poet, Francis Stuart, though the marriage was not a happy one.

The first meeting of Maud Gonne and W.B. Yeats is noted in Lolly's diary for Wednesday 30 January 1889. Lolly described her as 'the Dublin beauty (who is marching on to glory over the hears of the Dublin youths' (quoted in W. Murphy, p.160). Willy was smitten at once, declaring that 'her complexion was luminous, like that of apple-blossom through which the light falls'. (WBY, Autobiographies, p.123). Something of this description can be seen  in the present work. Maud Gonne attended the Academie Julian and took classes for some years with Maitre Granié, and she submitted at least one work to the Salon. She sent Yeats various drawings, including sketches of her daughter. At least two are mentioned circa 1905-06 in letters collected by MacBride White & Jeffares.

Yeats: The Family Collection

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London