Lot 71: Jack Butler Yeats RHA (1871-1957)A Sidewalk of New York (c.1911)Watercolour, 37 x 27cm (14½ x 10½'')SignedProvenance: Important Irish Art Sale these rooms September 1985 Cat. No. 43 where purchased by the present owners.Exhibited: Jack B. Ye
December 7, 2016
Dublin 2, Dublin, IrelandLive Auction
Description: Jack Butler Yeats RHA (1871-1957)A Sidewalk of New York (c.1911)Watercolour, 37 x 27cm (14½ x 10½'')SignedProvenance: Important Irish Art Sale these rooms September 1985 Cat. No. 43 where purchased by the present owners.Exhibited: Jack B. Yeats Exhibition: Pictures of Life in the West of Ireland Leinster Hall Dublin Oct 1905 Cat. No. 39 Jack B. Yeats Exhibition: Pictures of Life in the West of Ireland The Walker Art Gallery London Feb 1908 Cat. No. 49Literature: Jack B. Yeats: A biography Hilary Pyle 1970 P 83 - 85 Jack B. Yeats: His watercolours, drawings and pastels by Hilary Pyle 1993 Cat. No. 512 illustrated P134Smurfit Art Collection 2001 Full page illustration P 45A sidewalk of New York could be any number of sidewalks in the vast Island of Manhattan from which Yeats has based his scene. It is drawn from recollections of a visit made by Yeats to New York in 1904 with his wife Cottie. The occasion of his trip was to partake in an exhibition being held at the Clausen Gallery on Fifth Avenue. His place was secured by American lawyer and arts patron John Quinn. An avid draughtsman he made a number of sketches of the trip, as was common during his travels, some of which are held in the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland. Yeats was in the process of honing his craft as a first-hand recorder of events as at this time he was living in Devon in England and regularly visiting Ireland. From a distance he was able to commentate and observe dispassionately. Acting as an outsider looking in - somewhat removed - creates an unusual viewpoint as we are faced with two individuals at the edge of the picture plane. One is of an older man who seems to be walking out of the scene, his exaggerated scale, compressed by the edges of the composition, almost blocking our view. While the young child, although with his back to the viewer, is our entry point into the scene as we follow his gaze, wide eyed at the myriad of figures passing by. The choice of a young child, transfixed by the scene, is fitting as the mimic of the artist, an outsider visiting a strange and unknown city for the first time. While London was a cosmopolitan metropolis similar to New York, it is interesting that he chooses to depict it in the manner of the Wild West. The inclusion of a Native American in full traditional dress, the horse-drawn carts and wooden porches suggests a considerably more rural setting. Or is the figure a cigar store Indian, an advertisement sculpture in the likeness of Native American used to represent tobacconists. These life size wood figures usually with left hand raised to the forehead in warrior stance were common place in cities throughout the United States. The costume and staged air to the character of the figure is somewhat at odds with the rest of the scene. However, the other individuals could be read as tropes, devices used by the painter to conflate various echoes of American culture, to an Irish or British audience. The buildings in the background of the image are reminiscent of warehouses that would be found beside the port in downtown Manhattan. The issue of immigration cannot be entirely avoided; Yeats and his wife visited Ellis Island while on their trip. The nature of Irelands relationship with New York is defined by the mass emigration during the 19th and 20th centuries. In this case the social, political and emotional undertone cannot be ignored in favour of a dispassionate observation. Yeats relocated permanently to Ireland in 1910 and from then until his death in 1957 his interest lay in documenting the lives lived by Irishmen and women.