Thirty-two

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About to Write a Letter

1935 by Jack Butler Yeats
National Gallery of Ireland

About to Write a Letter is a stark contrast to the Yeats on postcard eight, On Through the Silent Lands. Yeats’ style is unmistakable – the thick paint, the expressive brush strokes – yet here it used to very different purpose, to thicken the atmosphere of this sinister painting.  About to Write a Letter is full of apprehension; we are poised, on tender hooks – about to – as the figure stands, half turned in a pose of anxiety. Colour, dancing erratically across the canvas, mirrors this feeling; it is dark and deep, sultry yet luminous – turquoise and green lurking in the background, seeping through and into the pictures that hang on wall. Light is hauntingly pulled out from colour, stretched out in brushstrokes like cobwebs; beams from the lampshade pull left, white, eerily and acridly glowing. Red is unnaturally bright, loud and textured – blood-like – spread across the table; reaching the centre it darkens to deathly black, surrounding the object of desire and fear — the letter. The man’s face seals the atmosphere of horror in this painting – a bluish pallor, a thin blood-red lip and vacant pupil-less eyes. Horrific and intriguing, this painting is Yeats’ gothic masterpiece.

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