I n the centenary year of the World Congress of the Irish Race and the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses both in Paris, our unique sale of Irish Art & Literature commemorates this key anniversary in modern Irish history by presenting a diverse range of works by leading Irish artists and writers from the 19th century to the present day. We are delighted to be staging the exhibition in our Paris galleries on the same street, Rue Du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, that the 1922 exhibition of Irish Art was held. Our sale celebrates and highlights the significant cultural connections that have long linked Ireland and France, particularly in the Arts.
“Everything in Paris is gay," said Ignatius Gallaher. "They believe in enjoying life--and don't you think they're right? If you want to enjoy yourself properly you must go to Paris. And, mind you, they've a great feeling for the Irish there. When they heard I was from Ireland they were ready to eat me, man.”
Masterpieces on Loan
We are honoured to be exhibiting in Paris three works on loan that have rarely been seen in public. Two of these, Grace Henry's The Rosary and Jack B. Yeats' Market Day, Mayo, were in the original 1922 exhibition of nearly 300 Irish artworks held at Galeries Barbazagnes; one hundred years on, they have returned to the capital. Jack B. Yeats attended the exhibition in Paris and gave his only public lecture discussing modern Irish art; his brother W. B. Yeats lectured on Irish literature. These artists and artworks, along with those included in our sale, reflect the influence of France on many of Ireland’s artists who had studied, travelled and painted in the country - in turn playing their part in shaping the artistic direction in Ireland.
“My happiest days in France were passed in the colony outside Paris at Grez-sur-Loing”
Lavery was born in Belfast and became a highly successful portraitist, war artist and painter of modern life. He enrolled at the Académie Julian in Paris in 1881. In Paris, Lavery was influenced by the naturalist painter Jules Bastien-Lepage, and often painted on the banks of the River Seine. Within two years, he moved from the urban ateliers of Paris to the artists’ colony of Grez-sur-Loing. Lavery was regarded as ‘the most important habitué’ of Grez (Kenneth McConkey, John Lavery, 2010, p.8). The present work is a magnificent example painted in the summer of 1883, a few months later than A Stranger in the sale (lot 18). This evocative panorama exudes the carefree existence enjoyed by the community of artists and their friends, depicting a stretch of water with, as Lavery himself put it, 'a man in a skiff kissing his hand to a pair of happy girls in a distant boat' (Walter Shaw-Sparrow, John Lavery and his Work, 1911, p. 46).
Lavery settled in London in 1898 and set up the ‘International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers’ with Whistler who became its President (replaced by Rodin after his death). Placing Lavery firmly in the international avant-garde, it advanced the causes of modern art in Britain, notably including work not only by Monet and Renoir but Cézanne and Klimt.
A Catholic by birth, Lavery and his wife Hazel took a keen political interest in the Irish struggle for Independence. He and his wife allowed their London home to be used for negotiations in the lead up to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and they became friends with the nationalist leader Michael Collins. Lavery’s portrait of him was included in the 1922 l’Exposition d’Art Irlandais alongside seven other works. Later in August that year, Collins was ambushed and killed during the Irish Civil War.
Grace Henry was one of several female artists given prominent representation in the 1922 Paris exhibition. She studied at the Académie Delécluse in Paris and adopted a modern, post-Impressionist style of painting, reflected here in the fluid brushwork, distortion of the picture space and the use of cloissonisme. In The Rosary, a subject that had been treated by Cézanne, a local villager in a humble cottage interior in the West of Ireland is an image of Catholic piety. The custom of assembling the family to repeat the Rosary before bedtime was widely practiced in Connemara communities at the time. Such a subject also suitably fulfilled the nationalist aims of the 1922 exhibition. The present work was one of five exhibits by Grace Henry to be included.
Henry had moved to Achill Island off the west coast of Ireland - considered the heart of Irish identity and custom - in 1910 with her artist-husband Paul Henry (also represented in the 1922 exhibition). The couple had met while studying together in Paris and influenced one another’s work particularly at this time.
“Painting is the freest of the Arts. The Artist must himself be free and his country must be free.”
Experimental, individual and patriotic, Jack B. Yeats is considered Ireland’s greatest modern painter of the twentieth century. He was born into a family that was deeply rooted in the Arts. His father, John Butler Yeats, was a well-known portrait painter while his sisters, Elizabeth and Susan, were involved in the Irish Arts and Crafts Movement (and were also included in the 1922 Exposition d’Art Irlandais). His brother was W. B. Yeats, the internationally celebrated poet and playwright.
Yeats’ work is rooted in scenes of everyday life, portraying the lives of local people and places. As his career progressed, he interpreted such subjects in an increasingly radical and expressionist manner. The present work dates to 1920, relatively early in his career as an oil painter, and shares the realism and delineation of his earlier works in illustration. It portrays a long car laden with local people on their way to market and drawn by two snorting horses. A man on horseback calls out a greeting as he gallops by. It is characteristically dramatic, emphasized by the silhouetting of the horses against the expansive sky. Low on the horizon is a glimpse of the sea and strand beyond.
Four works by Yeats were exhibited in 1922, including the present example. The artist, famously reticent to discuss or reveal his working practices, also gave his only public lecture at the World Congress of the Irish Race.