"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

William Butler Yeats

This 1980 charcoal drawing of William Butler Yeats by John Singer Sargent is on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. It belongs to the collection of Anne Peretz.
Arguably the greatest English-language poet of his generation, William Butler Yeats was deeply involved both in the Irish literary renaissance and the cause of Irish nationalism. This portrait was commissioned as the frontispiece to the first volume of Yeats's Collected Poems, published in 1908. Fifteen years later, in 1923, Yeats received the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.”
Sargent's drawing greatly pleased the poet, who described it as “a charming aerial sort of thing, very flattering as I think.” Yeats cultivated his appearance as a poet and an aesthete, confessing that he wore a velvet coat and bow tie “to remind himself of his own importance as an artist!” Sargent's moody characterization helped burnish the poet's image. -- NPG
This 1908 engraving by Emory Walker of a Nov. 1896 drawing by John Butler Yeats, the poet's father, formed the frontispiece of the seventh volume of The Collected Works in Verse and Prose of William Butler Yeats.

W. H. Auden's poem In Memory of W. B. Yeats, begins with this verse:

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

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