Friday, 11 July 2008

You gave, but will not give again

Sligo has been much in my mind lately. Not only did we have lovely visitors from Sligo yesterday, but much of the Sebastian Barry novel The Secret Scripture is set in Sligo. And then I went to the Hugh Lane Gallery to see the exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the opening of the gallery. The heart of the collection in 1908 was a set of 39 paintings owned by Hugh Lane, subsequently donated to the city. In the wrangle over finding a space for the paintings, Lane took them back and gave them to The Tate in London. After his appointment as the director of the National Gallery in Dublin, Lane wrote a codicil to his will giving the paintings back to Dublin, but this was never witnessed, and after his early death in 1915 a legal battle ensued over who actually owned the painting. There is now a mutual arrangement between Dublin and Lonon where the painting rotate. Quite startlingly, this is the first time that the original 39 paintings have hung together since 1908 and there is much merit in visiting this exhibition. Highlights include the marvellous Les Parapluies (1883) by Renoir.

With this in my mind, I went to the Yeats Exhibition in the National Library. This is a small exhibition around a set of themes, exploring various aspects of the life and work of W.B. Yeats. It uses manuscript material, books, and various short films featuring academics and scholars discussing the man himself. Particularly enjoyable is the exhibit going through various drafts of some important poems, especially 'Sailing to Byzantium'. There is something very compelling about making your way through the various drafts of the poem, watching Yeats at work on words, on phrasings. He often spoke about writing a poetry for the ear rather than for the eye (one reason that punctuation in Yeats can be notoriously tricky), and you can hear this happening through the drafts. But there is too a lot happening conceptually, intellectually in the rewrites and it is exhilarating and perhaps unsettling to realize that all drafts are not equal. A lot of this is available to view on the online exhibit, with all those wonderful 'Turn the Page' bits that have been presumably developed from the rather clever types in the British Library who do similar things with microchips and manuscripts.

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