Beautiful and compelling story of Jack B Yeats

“My soul lies in the arts. In them lies contentment,” were the text of Ernie O’Malley (1897-1957), the major groundbreaking whose art collection marketed for €5.5 million in November 2019. The now historic sale executed by Irish auction property Whyte’s in association with Christies, hailed as “the greatest demonstrating of substantial Jack B Yeats paintings at any time viewed outside the house big community galleries”, was not just the highest result for an artwork auction in Ireland, it also set record breaking figures for many functions.

The sale caught the eyes of Alex and Joel Verner, the Dublin brothers driving Uk primarily based film production corporation Averner. With a track record in organic record and ecotourism in central Africa, the pair – who had up to that stage been documentary makers for the BBC and National Geographic – ended up so amazed with the performs they made a decision it was time that the artist was appropriately explored.

Jack B Yeats
Jack B Yeats

“His story was in no way definitely explained to,” suggests director Alex Verner “except by way of academic operates like his biography [written by Hillary Pyle]. We understood one thing a lot more emotionally nuanced needed to happen, as we felt that Jack’s function in the broader planet was undervalued and underappreciated.”

The brothers set about The Gentleman Who Painted Ireland, commissioned by RTÉ, the initially in-depth movie that examines one of Ireland’s biggest – if not the finest – Irish painter of all time. On their journey into the depths of Yeats’ life, they learned via a fortuitous assembly with Mark Bell, commissioning arts editor at the BBC, that Colm Tóibín was a massive supporter of Jack B Yeats. In a paper by Tóibín, revealed in the Guardian in 2010, the Irish novelist describes Yeats as his hero, including that the extended home in the National Gallery devoted to the artist “is one particular of the sacred areas in Dublin for me”.

Novelist Colm Toibin wrote the narration to The Man who Painted Ireland. Photograph: Brigitte Lacombe
Novelist Colm Toibin wrote the narration to The Man Who Painted Ireland. Photograph: Brigitte Lacombe

Solitary figure

Los Angeles-dependent Tóibín has prepared a narrative which is as hauntingly wonderful as the paintings he describes, though also discovering parallels amongst Jack and his playwright brother William Butler Yeats, and their profound fascination in transcendency. He describes the artist as a solitary determine, and his paintings as “abandoning all warning like someone betting each penny in his pocket on a horse that lives in his dreams”.

When in lookup of a narrator for Tóibín’s words, the brothers uncovered that Hawaii-based mostly Irish actor Pierce Brosnan was also passionate about the artist. “He describes himself as currently being an artist to start with, and his ambition was often to be a expert painter, so our instinct instructed us we have to arrive at out to him,” remembers Verner. “Pierce described Colm’s words and phrases as ‘a work of artwork from the coronary heart and lyrical soul’, declaring that Yeats was an inspiration to him – in ‘how his mystic Irishness ignited his own observe as a painter’.”

There are some charming soundbites from Yeats chatting with the late
Eamonn Andrews

Academic insights are presented by Yeats biographer Hilary Pyle, Dr Róisín Kennedy and Roy Foster, emeritus professor of Irish historical past at the College of Oxford, who describes the Yeats loved ones as “saturated in art” and “who disagreed violently about things”. He relates the story of how patriarch John Butler Yeats once broke the glass of a portray above the head of a young William, and explores the theme of how sons typically turn into the reverse of their fathers.


Sligo’s affect on the artist is in-depth as is his function in London as an illustrator under the pseudonym Fowl – which is a overall distinction to the “ironic a little zany approach” of his paintings. When Yeats returned to Eire he became swept up in tradition and nationalism, “but far more telling ended up his literary connections”, according to an additional lover of the artist, writer and comic Dara Ó Briain, who injects lighthearted humour into the movie. Yeats ultimately settled on a model when in his 54th calendar year.

There are some beautiful soundbites from Yeats chatting with the late Eamonn Andrews, for instance when the artist quips: “I dislike the phrase art – as to do with paintings – there is only a person artwork, and that is the artwork of dwelling.”

Cormac O’Malley, son of the revolutionary Ernie O’Malley whose collection of works inspired the film
Cormac O’Malley, son of the revolutionary Ernie O’Malley whose assortment of works inspired the film

Collector John Kennedy tells what his selection of Yeats indicates to him, and ponders on the queries that the performs evoke, which is answered in Tóibín’s words and phrases: “Jack did not consider to explain the earth – but enrich its sense of mystery.”

But most likely the most poignant second in the film is when Ernie O’Malley’s son Cormac becomes psychological with regards to Demise For Only 1, and the parallels of the get the job done to his individual everyday living on themes of really like and decline, declaring he can no lengthier appear at the painting.

The Guy Who Painted Ireland will be revealed on RTÉ 1 at 10.15pm on Thursday, Oct 21st, and afterwards on the RTÉ Player. It commemorates the 150th anniversary of the artist’s delivery, and helps make a beautiful and persuasive companion to the Painting and Memory exhibition at the moment on exhibit at the National Gallery of Eire.