Yeats’ Homage to Roaring Boy Hero Leads Bonhams Modern British and Irish Art Sale

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Donnelly’s Hollow by Jack Yeats. Estimate: £300,000-500,000 (€340,000-570,000).

Donnelly’s Hollow by the Irish artist Jack B. Yeats leads Bonhams Modern British and Irish Art Sale in London on Wednesday 13 June. It is estimated at £300,000-500,000 (€340,000-570,000).

The large work (36×24 inches) depicts the natural amphitheatre at the Curragh in County Kildare where, in 1815, the Irish boxer Dan Donnelly defeated the English champion, George Cooper. The victory assumed lasting political significance in Ireland as a symbol of resistance to the British occupation, and a commemorative monument was erected at the site of the bout.

Donnelly was famous for the extent of his reach – he had unusually long arms – and for the ferocity of his punch which was delivered with bare knuckles (boxing gloves only became compulsory in 1867). He was, however, as wild out of the ring as in it. His prodigal lifestyle finally caught up with him, and he died penniless in 1820 at the age of 32. For many years, his right arm was displayed in a pub in Kilcullen.

Boxing was a passion for the sports-mad Yeats, and Donnelly’s Hollow is one in a series of paintings that revisit in maturity the obsessions of the artist’s youth. The scene shows a group of visitors paying homage at the monument, and features Yeats himself standing on the hill looking down on it, meditatively.

Bonhams Director of Modern British and Irish Art Penny Day said, “An arresting fusion of the imaginary and the real, combining the lyrical, painterly qualities and deeply human subject matter for which Yeats is famed, Donnelly’s Hollow is a masterpiece of 20th century painting.” 

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