Dramatic encounters between two figures form a key theme in the later work of Yeats. It is the basis of Two Travellers (1942, Tate), and numerous others such as The Face in shadow (1946, Private Collection), The Great Old Road (1948, Private Collection) and That we may never meet again (c.1955, York Art Gallery). These transient meetings between travellers on the road fulfil an existential idea that is explored in Yeats’s novel and plays, and most notably in the plays of his friend, Samuel Beckett. Here fleeting interaction with other human beings enables the individual to have a sense of their own humanity and its fragility.
The Sunset Belongs to You differs from much of this work in that the protagonists are young and one is female. This and the title suggests a romantic tryst, perhaps one of parting and separation. The work recalls several of Yeats’s earlier paintings where he juxtaposes male and female figures such as Man Doing His Accounts (1929, Private Collection) or By Drumcliffe Strand, Long Ago (1934, Private Collection) in which the two figures meet rather than separate. The male as here, is often cast as a dreamer and a nomad while the female figure represents stability and practicality.
The drama of the encounter in The Sunset belongs to You is heightened by the theatrical poses of the figures whose bodies are silhouetted against an expanse of sky, with open ground of wild windswept foliage extending to the distant horizon behind them. This sparse setting concentrates attention on the man and woman and the dynamics of their relationship as suggested by their poses. The woman stoops as she moves away. Her face is downcast as she pulls her shawl closer to her body. The garment is transformed into a kaleidoscope of colour by the reflected light of the setting sun. Her companion, by contrast, stands rigidly in profile, his body formed of cool blue hues with flecks of red and yellow sunlight on his face and his hand. The dynamic application of paint creates a sense of constant movement throughout the composition. This adds to the poignancy of the encounter and its impact on the two figures. Yeats’s keen understanding of drama is evident in the way that this simple composition conveys emotional intensity, arousing the viewer’s curiosity and empathy with its two protagonists.
Dr. Róisín Kennedy
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