About to Write a Letter

Jack B. Yeats (1871-1957)
About to Write a Letter, 1935

Oil on canvas, 61 x 91 cm
Purchased, 1964

The subject of About to Write a Letter is drawn from The Fancy, a small book of poems by Peter Corcoran originally published in 1820, but reedited by John Masefield and illustrated by Jack B. Yeats in 1906. The poems in the book focus on a group of dissolute young men, whose lives revolve around boxing and other tough sports, and can be read as the poet’s farewell to the wild days of his youth. Peter Corcoran was the nom-de-plume of John Hamilton Reynolds, a close friend of Keats.

The richness of the colour Yeats uses here, from the scarlet of the table cover to the blues and greens of the wall behind is remarkable. Similarly striking are the tonal contrasts, such as that between the figure’s pallid face and the dense blackness of his coat. The modelling is typically vigorous but summary, allowing details like the pictures on the wall in the background and the pen and paper on the table to emerge from the composition.

View a selection of paintings from the Yeats Collection