Yeats depicted children playing as animals in other works including Playing Horses (1945, Private Collection) and the work on paper, Donkey, Hare and Hounds (1910, Private Collection). Children, like animals, are privileged entities in his work, as in that of other artists. Their intuitiveness, innocence and sensitivity heighten their perception of the world, an idea that Yeats emphasises in the exuberant way in which he paints them. Equally children, at least in the imagination of Yeats, are unpredictable and vivacious. They spurn the conventional manners of adulthood and, like the tinkers and ballad singers of his other paintings, are outsiders to society.
Hilary Pyle has suggested that the child’s golden hair ‘proclaims his symbolic role for the artist’ and his freedom to create and imagine are akin to that of the painter or the writer (Hilary Pyle, op. cit., p.1064). The figure appears in A Westerly Wind (1921, Private Collection). In later works such as Tinkers’ Encampment. Blood of Abel (1940, Private Collection), Above the Fair (1946, National Gallery of Ireland) and Grief (1951, National Gallery of Ireland) the golden-haired child takes on a religious connotation, evoking the Christ child who intercedes between humanity and its creator, or between humanity and the cosmos. Here, in one of Yeats’s last paintings, the boy recalls the energy and imagination of childhood. The strong impasto colours and dynamic setting equally convey the brevity of life and the intoxicating impact on one’s memory of such youthful moments.
Dr. Róisín Kennedy
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