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WORK OF THE WEEK | 12 February 2020

CAG.2767 Jack B. Yeats, A Race in Hy Brazil, 1937, oil on canvas, 71 x 91.5 cm. Part of the AIB Art Collection, donated to the State, 2012. © the artist's estate.

A Race in Hy Brazil (1937) presents a lush, peopled landscape in rich blue and green tones. Vigorously and expressively painted by Jack B. Yeats, this stunning work depicts the mystical ‘Isle of the Blest’ from Irish mythology.

Reputed to lie in the Atlantic Ocean – and even appearing in nautical charts over the centuries! – Hy-Brazil (or Brasil) was considered a paradise of peace and eternal life akin to Tír na nÓg (Land of Youth). The phantom island’s name is probably derived from the clan Uí Breasail and has no connection to the South American republic, Brazil.

Yeats, however, conjures up a land that does not exist and imagines this ‘region of sunshine and rest’ from a poem by Gerald Griffin (1803-1840). In addition to an appearance in the work of the artist’s brother, poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), Hy-Brazil also featured in a lecture by the humanitarian and revolutionary, Roger Casement (1864-1916).

Painted in 1937 – the same year as Bunreacht na hÉireann (Constitution of Ireland) – it perhaps presents a hopeful utopian vision of the world, even as war loomed.

A Race in Hy Brazil (1937) by Jack B. Yeats – part of the AIB Art Collection donated to the State in 2012 – is featured in MISE ÉIRE, which runs until 29 March 2020 in our Modern Galleries (Floor 2).

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