Lot 29
  • 29

JACK B. YEATS, R.H.A. | Early Sunshine

120,000 - 180,000 GBP
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  • Jack B. Yeats, R.H.A.
  • Early Sunshine
  • signed l.r.: JACK B/ YEATS; titled on the stretcher
  • oil on canvas
  • 35.5 by 46cm., 14 by 18in.
  • Painted in 1946.


Victor Waddington Gallery, Dublin, 1946;
Mr and Mrs F. L. Vickerman, Dublin and thence by descent, from whom purchased by the present owners in 1996


Ireland of the Welcomes 20, no.2 (July-August 1971), p.19, illustrated in colour p.21;
Hilary Pyle, Jack B. Yeats, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings, Vol.II., Andre Deutsch, London, 1992, no.794, p.715


Original canvas. The work appears in good original condition. Some minor craquelure to area of thicker impasto denoting the sun rise; also to some of the deep red pigment to the right of the figure and in the dark area of pigment above the signature. Under ultraviolet light there appear to be no signs of retouching. Held in a gilt plaster frame under glass.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

'The artist…feels he is part of everything that surrounds him. He knows what is happening every hour: the corn is springing, or a storm is coming and the floating archipelago of clouds are baking together. He may find himself in the very centre loop of a whirlwind. After a time, the sun comes shouldering his way thro’ the storm clouds and they scatter away, and under the sun the country lies like a new land; of all this the artist has been part.’
(Jack B. Yeats, 'Modern Apescts of Irish Art', quoted in Irish Arts Review Yearbook, 1993, p.95)  In this poetic work a man stands on high ground surveying the view of the emerging day expanding before him. His pose, in which his hands are clasped to his chest and his face in profile, has a distinctly religious aura. The strange formation of the sun in the centre of the light filled sky suggests an apparition. Its dynamic movement through the firmament contrasts with the static forms of the water and trees below. The reflected light transforms the man’s coat into a garment of deep yellows and reds, while his head remains a ghostly white. He is an ethereal presence, waiting for sunrise to take hold and make him solid once more. Behind the figure touches of sunshine enliven a thick hedge of shrubbery with flecks of bright blue, yellow and red, evocative of the invigorating power of daylight.

Dawn is a key theme in Yeats’s later work. It offers the idea of hope and renewal, in which the heat and light of the rising sun overcomes the cold and darkness of night and transforms the landscape into a colourful, vibrant cosmos. The treatment of the theme can be compared to several other works by Yeats of the mid 1940s such as Rockhill, Dawn, (1944, Private Collection) and Morning Glory (1945, Private Collection) and most notably The Dawn (1946, Private Collection), in which a weary old man, possibly Yeats himself, sits in a West of Ireland landscape, with the sea and the sky behind him.

As can be gleaned from his hat and clothing and from similar figures in many of Yeats’s other works of this period, the figure in Early Sunshine is a homeless wanderer. This traveller or outsider is much more in tune with the cycle of day and night than his fellow citizens and, as can be understood from a perusal of Yeats’s novels and paintings, has chosen to live his days in harmony with the natural world. This rejection of conventional life in Yeats’s work was recognised and admired by several commentators including the writer and friend Ernie O’Malley and later by the artist and critic Brian O’Doherty.

Dr Róisín Kennedy