Friday 24th July; 2020 Water Blog

The Child of the Sea, Jack Butler Yeats, 1948

One of my favourite artists of all time is Jack Butler Yeats. He used the sea as an enduring source of inspiration, and in his latter years it often became a metaphorical equation for life. In The Child of the Sea this equation is presented in categorical terms, with age alongside youth, indifference alongside wonder and quiet contemplation next to childlike exuberance. [1]

Painted in 1948, The Child of the Sea contrasts the attitude of an innocent young child to that of the swarthy sailor, who, as companions at sea, are nevertheless polarised in their experience of the moment. While the old sailor hunches over folded arms, apparently lost in deep thought and oblivious to the ubiquity of the seascape, the child stares out open-mouthed in an attitude of wonder. Entirely absorbed by the sight and experience of the lively sea, the child’s communication with the elements is emphasised by the near-total blending of his features with the salty surroundings. The tones of the sea are reflected in the china-white complexion of his skin, while the ruddy aspect of the old man tells of a detachment borne of a long-standing acquaintance with the ocean in all its guises. [1]

The painting was auctioned at Sotheby’s to a private collector in 2011.

To me, this painting depicts hope, hope that the wonders, mysteries and splendour of the seascapes will inspire future generations to protect, guard and sustain our remarkable oceans.

By Ruth Clinton

Water Innovation Officer



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