Preview: Sotheby’s 19 November 2019

Jack B Yeats (1871-1957) The Stevedore 1947 oil on canvas 35x53cm

Jack B Yeats had a life-long interest in nautical types. His grandfather William Pollexfen owned a merchant shipping company in Sligo and Yeats spent a lot of his childhood there. Through Pollexfen he would have encountered the river pilots, captains, and stevedores that were later to populate many of his paintings and drawings. As early as 1900 he produced a set of watercolours depicting a range of workers involved in the shipping trade: The Bay Pilot, The River Pilot, The Stevedore, The Ganger and the Gang. Nearly 50 years later he was still finding inspiration in these early childhood experiences.

His 1947 painting The Stevedore is one of a number of impressive works on offer in Sotheby’s Irish Art sale on 19 November. This later stevedore is a very different figure to the one that appears in the 1920 watercolour. The earlier illustrative work features a portly and rather prosaic figure in a blue jacket standing on the quay gesturing to a boat alongside. A fine physical specimen he is not. The stevedore in the 1947 painting is pictured not in his working milieu but walking along a street perhaps returning from work. He is carrying a bag on his shoulder. The broadness of the chest and shoulders suggest strength and the handsome, square features with the head held high have a noble quality. The background is only approximately depicted so we focus on the man – worker as existential hero. This powerful work is guiding at £120,000-£180,000. The auction also features a gorgeously lit and sunny nude by Roderic O’Conor. Nude Reclining in an Armchair is guiding at £50,000 to £70,000.

John P O’Sullivan