JACK YEATS was, without doubt, the greatest British artist of the first half of the twentieth century.' This bold statement by the exiniious authors of a recent (and speedily remaindered) encyclopedic tome on Irish painters, though perhaps admirable for its gutsy tub-thumping, deserves questioning scrutiny rather than mute acceptance, for it may seem to depend on the assumption that unfinished canvases, unresolved ideas, and often unlovely smudges and smears of paint are the marks of unarguable superiority.
Smudges and smeais are plentiful in the Whitechapel Gallery's exhibition of forty-five - later and late paintings by this younger brother of the celebrated poet, William Buder Yeats, so much so that the thought at once occurred to me that the Gallery, having just exhibited the bleached and blasted, blobbed and buttered absurdities of the preposterous American Albert Pinkham Ryder, perhaps proposes that Ireland too could produce a famous rotten painter -and that the logic of the one exhibition immediately following the other is that both painters had work hung in the Exhibition ofmodem Art at the Armory in New York in 1913 (the most important event in the history of modem art in America), both were on the late and lunatic fringe of Romanticism with a poetic slant, and bod-i were writers as well as painters.
The Liffey Swim
Jack Butler Yeats
The pity is that Yeats did not accompany his pictures to New York and thus did not encounter the difty and reclusive dotard who is now regarded as the father of Abstract Expressionism, for if ever that term could be applied to a painter earlier than Pollock, de Kooning and their ilk, it is to Jack Yeats in his declining years.
Two less irreverent thoughts followed - that the selectors had chosen ahnost entirely the wrong pictures, and that Yeats is, though an interesting curiosity, so minor a painter that it makes no sense to mount with so much fanfarrado an exhibition of so....
You can read the rest of this article and many others in 'An Alphabet of Villians' by Brian Sewell