Posts Tagged ‘Dublin’


For how can you compete,

Being honor bred, with one

Who were it proved he lies

Were neither shamed in his own

Nor in his neighbors’ eyes;

William Butler Yeats,

From To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing


I can’t say that I am a big Bill Kristol fan, the conservative political analyst, but yesterday he deftly used the excerpt above from a W.B. Yeats poem to describe the Mueller hearing of the day before. It so well described an honorable man dealing with the current occupant of the white house* and his minions in congress* that I wanted to know a bit more about that particular piece of verse.

It turns out that the poem from which those lines come is titled To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing that was included in a small volume of poems called Poems Written in Discouragement 1912-13.

The poem is at the bottom of the page and at first I thought it referred to someone in Yeats’ universe, a writer or artist or playwright, who had put their all into their work for years and years only to never be recognized for that work while others– who this person at least equals in talent and effort– gain greater recognition. That seems like a logical interpretation.

Turns out there is a different story behind the poem.

It has to do with an Irish art dealer named Hugh Lane who was trying to establish a public art gallery that would bring modern art of that time to Dublin at the beginning decades of the 20th century. He proposed to give the city his collection of 39 modern masterworks from Renoir, Manet, Degas, Monet, Daumier, Pissarro and Morisot so that they might establish a museum/gallery. The painting at the top from Renoir, The Umbrellas, was part of his collection.

To that time, Dublin had yet to display the new art of the age and its city fathers and religious leaders were not swayed by the offer. They viewed the new art as being decadent and with an air of libertinism to it. This turned into a heated public battle in which Yeats and others in the Irish artistic community fought to bring the new art culture to the country. They eventually lost and the collection ended up in the possession of the National Gallery of Great Britain after Lane died in the sinking of the Lusitania by German U-boats in 1915. He was returning from NY where he had sold two great pieces to what would become the Frick Collection. The Lusitania was only eleven miles from the Irish coast.

The battle for Hugh Lane’s collection has been fought continuously for the past century between the National Gallery and the Irish government. There are a lot more details so I am not going to get into the whole affair here. There is great article in the Guardian that goes into everything that transpired.

I just find it interesting how Yeats could turn a poem that dealt with the loss of a public debate about art and philanthropy into a poem that feels like it could be applied to many people who are in creative fields and may never realize the recognition their work may well deserve.

Or to a prosecutor dealing with shameless liars.

Here’s the whole poem:

To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing


Now all the truth is out,

Be secret and take defeat

From any brazen throat,

For how can you compete,

Being honor bred, with one

Who were it proved he lies

Were neither shamed in his own

Nor in his neighbors’ eyes;

Bred to a harder thing

Than Triumph, turn away

And like a laughing string

Whereon mad fingers play

Amid a place of stone,

Be secret and exult,

Because of all things known

That is most difficult.

–William Butler Yeats, Poems Written in Discouragement 1912-1913



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bacon-s-studio-1This is not my studio.

Although sometimes when I am in a really good groove of painting my studio does get progressively more and more cluttered.  At first, it doesn’t bother me at all that the floor didn’t get swept or that piles of papers are beginning to pile high on the stone kneewalls that separate the spaces in the studio.  Tubes and bottles of paint and old yogurt containers with brushes in varying degrees of wear all over the place.  New paintings propped against any available wall space so that I can freely see and consider them and a few old pieces and raw canvasses ready to be worked on stacked off to the side, creating a new wall in themselves.

bacon-studioBut at a certain point, the feeling of chaos begins to creep in and I can’t take it anymore. I have to organize at least a bit to calm the drone that the chaos has brought on in my head before it breaks into my painting rituals too much.  So, I re-stack paintings and paper, cleans some brushes and containers, put away some books and maybe vacuum.


Maybe not.

bacon-reece-mews-studioBut I feel a little lighter and my mind is clearer so I can easily fall back into that groove.  Plus my current studio is, even in its most cluttered state, less chaotic than my old studio in the woods above our home.  It was very rustic and I regularly purged the paints I soaked up in my process from my brushes on to the floor, creating a huge black spot of paint and ink.  Plus, being much smaller than the current studio made the space always seem filled and in a somewhat messy state even after I would pick up.

But even that space didn’t compare with the studio of Francis Bacon, the Irish born painter known for work that is sometimes violent and disturbing in nature.  The shots shown here are from his old London studio that was left intact after his death in 1992 at the age of 82.  It was moved exactly as it was, with every bit of dust and debris intact, to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin where it is on permanent display.

bacon_study1953I remember seeing these photos years ago and feeling so much better about my studio.  The huge black paint stain on my floor didn’t seem so bad.  But I wondered if I could function in his space.  I guess the concentration required to block out the mounds of debris would have to be incredible.  Maybe that is part of the painting obsession- to be so engrossed in what is before you that all else is pushed far off into the background.  Bacon did view his painting as an obsession, saying, “I have been lucky enough to be able to live on my obsession. This is my only success.”  

Bacon was an incredibly interesting character and one whose words often ring true for me.  He was self taught and talked in terminology that I understand, earthy and straightforward.  Very little artspeak.

The piece shown here from Bacon is one of my favorites, Study After Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, and is very representative of the style of much of his work.  You can find a lot on Bacon and his work online.

Well, got to go– I think I better pick up a bit…

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