When Jack. B Yeats first exhibited Singing My Dark Rosaleen, Croke Park (oil on canvas, 1921, private collection), critic J.W.G wrote in the Freeman’s Journal:
“The setting of the scene is different from that of his western sketches, and, superficially, nothing could be more prosaic than the stumps of mill chimneys, the ugly paling of the sports ground, and the drab, shuffling crowd. A realist might have presented the subject as a cynical comment of the importance of a picturesque background to a popular demonstration. With the exception of the girl in the foreground who savours a little of the conventional colleen, Mr Yeats sticks as close to the facts as any realist, yet with truer insight, the note of his picture is the the surge of patriotic emotion that the most dismal surroundings cannot repress. This canvas tolls one more of the spirit of Ireland than any presentation of death-defying heroes posed in romantically impossible attitudes.” (J.W.G, ‘Dublin Painters: Exhibition in Stephen’s Green Gallery, 1 November 1921)
In terms of my research, there is lots of interesting material here – the depiction of Croke Park in the 1920s, the author’s attitude towards realism and realist painters, and the nationalist feeling he inscribes onto the painting.In art historiography, Yeats has often been placed in the role of Ireland’s great ‘nationalist’ painter, although I would agree with Roisin Kennedy’s assessment that his work has ‘all too often been put at the service of a discourse to which much of the work is largely tangential.’ However, in considering a painting of Croke Park, the year after Bloody Sunday, the connection between Yeats and the politics of his time is strongly evident. The title of the work suggests something of the aural nature of the scene Yeats wanted to show, so I thought it only right to dig out a recording of ‘My Dark Rosaleen’. The most fitting version available, I thought, is this early recording by John McCormack. Even though it’s not exactly contemporary with Yeats’ painting (and potentially in a different language), I think it’s fascinating to listen to in the context of the artwork, and the city in the 1920s.
‘Singing My Dark Rosaleen, Croke Park’ is now in a private collection, and as it does not appear on any auction archive websites, I am unsure about including an image of it here. However, it is illustrated in Bruce Arnold’s biography of the artist, and is included in the catalogue for Sotheby’s Irish Art Sale, 2 June 1995.
Additional Reading: Kennedy, Róisín. ‘Divorcing Jack … from Irish politics’. In Jack B. Yeats: Old and New Departures, edited by Yvonne Scott, 33 – 46. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2008