Crawford Art Gallerypermanent collection

Off the Donegal Coast

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Off the Donegal Coast
Irish School
Oil on canvas
60.5 x 90.7cm


Gibson Fund Acquisition, 1924
The diagonal composition in Off the Donegal Coast derives from a drawing made by Yeats in 1906 (in the National Galley of Ireland) for J M Synge's The Aran Islands, showing four fishermen in their canvas canoe, or currach, pausing momentarily on a great billow to look over at land on the horizon. The Donegal islands are even more remote than Aran, and the traditional craft were used from prehistoric times to reach the mainland for certain necessary provisions, for doctor and priest, and sometimes work or schooling. The painting shows a dramatic moment of extreme peril, where a group of fishermen in their flimsy vessel, caught in a storm, endeavour to catch the rope thrown from a life boat (its rail alone indicated) before they perish in the merciless deep.

Yeats's pursuit of 'Life in the West of lreland' in his art parallels the preservation of folklore in various ways by his brother, Lady Gregory and J M Synge, aware of the rapid disappearance of an ancient way of life, but anxious also to recreate it somehow for a new Ireland. Off the Donegal Coast was painted not long after the Treaty was signed, when, with Paul Henry and the group known as the Dublin Painters, Yeats was consciously choosing contemporary Ireland as his subject. The scene is immediate: terror is palpable. The vigorous brushstrokes and strong, natural colours draw out the reality of the situation in a compelling visual tale.


Lit. - Pyle, 1992

Jack B. Yeats
Irish School

Jack B. Yeats, son of the artist John Butler Yeats and brother of the poet William Butler Yeats, was born in London in 1871 but spent most of his childhood in Sligo, where he learned his love of the sea. His interest in local life, whetted by travels with J M Synge in Connemara, and with his wife in other coastal areas, provided the theme of his early exhibitions: 'Life in the West of Ireland'.

After London, he lived in Devon, near the sea, for fourteen years, and in the seaside town of Greystones in county Wicklow when he returned to Ireland.
He moved to Dublin in 1917, where he died in 1957.

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