Family Audio Tour: The Liffey Swim

Jack B. Yeats (1871-1957), 'The Liffey Swim', 1923. © National Gallery of Ireland.
Jack B. Yeats (1871-1957), 'The Liffey Swim', 1923. © National Gallery of Ireland.Credit

Jack B. Yeats (1871-1957), The Liffey Swim, 1923

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Transcript

Ide:
In my job looking after the galleries, I’m surrounded by works of art all day long - and this is one of my favourites! 

Eoin:
It looks a bit blurred to me! Why’s it so great?

Ide:
Well, it’s a picture of Dublin, my hometown. I cross this river, the River Liffey, every day to get to work. Maybe you passed it too on your way to the Gallery?

Eoin:
Yes, but it wasn’t half as crowded. What’s going on here?

Ide:
This picture shows a famous swimming race called the Liffey Swim, when people swim all the way down the river. This picture was painted about a hundred years ago when 34 people competed.

Eoin:
Brr, it must have been freezing! 

Ide:
They warmed up soon enough. Look at them, speeding past!  

Eoin:
But pictures can’t move, so how can they be speeding? 

Ide:
You’re right, pictures aren’t like films, but artist can make things look like they’re moving – like this artist did. 

Eoin:  
Aaah, is that why everything’s blurred? Like in a car when everything outside speeds past you quickly. The swimmer’s arm is just a squiggly stroke of paint.

Ide:
And there’s another trick too. Look at how the buildings all get smaller as they get further away. And how the river goes from wide to narrow. This trick is called perspective. Artists use it to create a kind of whoosh effect – to show the swimmers getting further away.

Eoin:
But even on the riverbank, the people all seem to be moving, trying to get a better view.

Ide:
Look closely here and you’ll see the artist himself. Look for a man turning his face towards us; he’s wearing a hat with a band.

Eoin:
Uhhm, found him!

Ide:
His name was Jack B. Yeats, and he won a very special prize for this painting: an Olympic medal for painting no less!

Eoin:
So a real masterpiece then! It’s given me lots of ideas.

Ide:
And you, if you had to paint a picture of something moving, what would you paint?

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