Fine day for Irish art: Jack B Yeats painting sets Ireland record $1.34m price

Yesterday evening some very keen bidding was underway in Dublin as Adam's sale of Important Irish Art was in full swing with over 200 lots going under the hammer.

However, it was one lot in particular: lot 50, which bidders were really waiting for. That was Jack Butler Yeats's 1925 work A Fair Day, Mayo.

Auctioneer James O'Halloran opened the bidding at €300,000, but was swiftly battered with a rapid series of bids rising by five figure sums each time. The auction house had expected the work to reach €500,000, and even get as high as €800,000, but the bids passed that and went all the way up to €1m ($1.34m).

The buyer, an Irish telephone bidder, set a record for an artwork sold in Ireland.

Irish art Jack B Yeats A Fair Day Mayo
Irish art Jack B Yeats A Fair Day Mayo

A Fair Day, Mayo is based on a memory of a visit to the north Mayo town of Ballycastle by the artist in 1905. Jack Yeats was travelling in the company of John Millington Synge as the two men collaborated on a series of articles on the Congested Districts for the Manchester Guardian.

Synge provided the text which was illustrated by Yeats. The experience was of enormous significance to Yeats who shared Synge's curiosity and empathy with the inhabitants of the West, many of whom lived in abject poverty.

His sketchbooks record various scenes and encounters they made.

Hilary Pyle has likened the theme of the fair to that of the circus in Yeats's work. It is, she believes, a metaphor for human life. Certainly it is theme to which the artist returned many times throughout his long career.

The fair, like country race meetings or circuses, brought together diverse elements of the rural population and transformed the normally quiet country towns into vibrant scenes of commerce, socialising and general commotion.

He returned to the composition and subject of this painting in 1946 in Above the Fair, (National Gallery of Ireland), a work which deals with the drama and excitement of the fair and its impact on rural life.


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