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Work of the Week | 6 March 2023

CAG.0073 John Butler Yeats, John Redmond (unfinished), c.1905, oil on canvas, 91.5 x 70.8 cm. Bequeathed, Dr Lennox Robinson, 1959.


Today is the 105th anniversary of parliamentarian John Redmond, who died on this day in 1918.

John Redmond (1856-1918) was leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party at the time that John Butler Yeats commenced this portrait, which would remain unfinished and was bequeathed to the Gallery in 1959 by playwright Lennox Robinson.

Much admired as one of Ireland’s finest portrait painters, Yeats nonetheless often frustrated his clients due to his inability to meet deadlines. Those commissioning portraits, such as Redmond, were known to give up on the artist after several sittings when it was clear that the painting was becoming increasingly sketch-like and further from completion.

Perhaps fittingly, it is of historical irony that Yeats should leave this portrait unfinished, as Redmond himself had not achieved his goal of ‘Home Rule’ for Ireland by the time of his death in 1918. Despite its unfinished quality, Yeats’ portrait captures not only Redmond’s likeness, but also something of his frank and unassuming demeanour.

John Butler Yeats (1839-1922), who was born in County Down, studied Law at Trinity College Dublin before embarking on a painting career in 1867, much to the dismay of his wife, Susan Pollexfen (1841-1900). They are better known today through the achievements of their children, poet and senator William Butler Yeats, embroiderer and designer Susan Yeats, publisher and educator Elizabeth Yeats, and artist Jack B. Yeats.

John Redmond (c.1905) by John Butler Yeats is featured in BEHIND THE SCENES: Collection at Work until 10 April.

The Arts House: Conor Tallon chats with curator Michael Waldron about a work from the Collection every Sunday morning on Cork’s 96FM and C103 Cork.

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