My Favourite Painting: Nicholas Lyons, Lord Mayor of London

Nicholas Lyons, Lord Mayor of London, chooses a dramatic and expressive post-war image.

The Lord Mayor on his choice of Men of Destiny by Jack B. Yeats

Men of Destiny was painted in 1946, after the upheaval of a civil war and two World Wars. It is a brilliant example of the expressive, figurative style that epitomised the second, distinctive, phase of Jack’s creative life. The thickly applied paint in vibrant colours is mesmerising. The painting speaks of the nobility of the simple fishermen at Rosses Point, the glowering sky giving way to a sunlit horizon suggesting a more optimistic future.

‘It is particularly poignant to me as my father was writing the biography of Jack’s brother, William, when he died, unexpectedly, at the age of 59. I have fond memories of our occasional visits together to “Yeats Country”, Co Sligo, when he was doing his research.’

Nicholas Lyons is the Lord Mayor of London. On March 30, he will host the annual Lord Mayor’s Big Curry Lunch, which raises funds to support Armed Forces veterans finding employment. Tickets are on sale now.

Charlotte Mullins on Men of Destiny

In 1938, the poet Thomas MacGreevy wrote: ‘I do not think I am claiming too much for Jack Yeats when I say that nobody before him had juxtaposed landscape and figure without subduing the character of either.’ Men of Destiny exemplifies this, a powerful fusion of men, land and sea as if they are one living, breathing being. In a bravura piece of expressionism, Yeats’s men seem to grow out of the roiling sea at the land’s edge. They have been conjured by thick primary brushstrokes, early sunlight catching their faces and coat sleeves and streaking across the horizon below the turbulent sky.

Yeats was the younger brother of poet W. B. Yeats and son of the Victorian portrait painter John Butler Yeats. He grew up with his grandparents in the coastal town of Sligo in Ireland and early memories of fishermen and the mercurial sea would feed his art throughout his career. He lived through the protracted birth of the Republic of Ireland and this painting is often interpreted as referencing the Easter Rising. It marked the 30th anniversary of the event, its title recalling Eamon de Valera’s republican party Fianna Fáil (Soldiers of Destiny).

Yeats’s early muted realism gave way to a far looser style from the 1920s. His late works have a universal quality—it is as if these men stand in for all who would stop their work and fight for freedom. This painting was acquired by the National Gallery of Ireland four years before MacGreevy became director in 1950.

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