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IRISH ARTISTS & ILLUSTRATION 1830-1930

Yeats, Elizabeth Corbet

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Biography: Elizabeth (Lollie) Corbet Yeats (1868–1940), publisher, printer and painter, was born in London. The Yeats family lived in Dublin for a time in the 1880s, where Elizabeth began her art education at the Metropolitan School of Art in 1883. In the 1890s the Yeats family lived in London, during this period Elizabeth trained as a kindergarten teacher at the Froebel College, Bedford. On completing her studies she taught as a visiting art mistress at the Froebel Society, Chiswick High School, and at the Central Foundation School. Also at this time she provided instructive text and illustrations for four painting manuals entitled ‘Brushwork’ (1896), ‘Brushwork studies of flowers, fruits and animals for teachers and advanced students’ (1898), ‘Brushwork copy book’ (1899), and ‘Elementary brushwork studies’ (1900). In 1902, Elizabeth and her sister, the embroiderer, Susan (Lily) Yeats (1866-1949), were approached by Evelyn Gleeson (1855–1944), textile designer, suffragist and Irish revivalist¸ to join her in the establishing of a craft workshop in Ireland which would employ young women. The enterprise, named Dun Emer, was based in Dundrum, County Dublin, and it incorporated a textile workshop and printing press. Before undertaking the role as printer Elizabeth attended courses at the Women’s Printing Society, London. Under Elizabeth, the Dun Emer press produced hand-printed books, publishing the work of leading Irish writers of the period including the work of her brother William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) – who acted as the press editor. Other printed material included hand-coloured prints, bookplates and cards. As a publisher Elizabeth was greatly influenced by the work of William Morris’ Kelmscott Press and she was advised personally by Emery Walker (1851-1933), co-founder of the Doves Press; both men extolled the merits of the handcrafted ideal. In 1908, the partnership between Gleeson and the Yeats sisters dissolved, with Elizabeth retaining the printing press. In the same year, Elizabeth and Susan founded Cuala Industries, incorporating the Cuala Press. 1908 also saw the publication of the first edition of ‘A Broadside’. Edited and illustrated by her brother Jack Butler Yeats (1871–1957), this four page publication, comprising poetry, lyrics and illustrations, was hand -printed on hand-made paper by Elizabeth and hand-coloured by her and her assistants. Cuala Press publications, including books and illustrated ephemera, were exhibited in Arts and Crafts exhibitions in Ireland and abroad. Elizabeth herself provided a number of illustration designs for Cuala Press material, including cards, prints and decorative frontispieces. She described the Cuala method of printing and colouring by hand as ‘art printing’. In 1935 and 1937, Elizabeth published two further series of ‘A Broadside’, this time co-edited by William Butler Yeats and a number of Irish artists contributed designs including Harry Kernoff (1900-1974), Maurice McGonigal (1900-1979), Seán O'Sullivan (1906–64) and Jack Butler Yeats.

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