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IRISH ARTISTS & ILLUSTRATION 1830-1930

Yeats, Jack Butler

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Biography: Jack (John) Butler Yeat, (1871–1957), painter, cartoonist and illustrator, was born in London, the youngest son of the painter John Butler Yeats (1839–1922) and Susan Mary Pollexfen (1841–1900). He and his siblings, William Butler Yeats (1865–1939), Susan (Lily) Yeats (1866-1949) and Elizabeth (Lollie) Corbet Yeats (1868–1940) would become leading figures in Ireland’s cultural revival from the 1890s. Having spent much of his childhood in the home of his maternal grandparents in Sligo, Yeats later joined the family in London where, from the late 1880s, he attended art classes at the South Kensington School of Art, Chiswick School of Art and the West London School of Art. Yeats, like earlier generations of Irish artists, began his artistic career working as an illustrator for a number of leading British periodicals including ‘The Vegetarian’, ‘The Daily Graphic’, ‘The Illustrated London News’ and, the satirical magazine ‘Punch’. Under the pseudonym ‘W. Bird’, Yeats continued to work as a ‘Punch’ cartoonist into the 1940s. Other early published illustrative work included a series of images entitled ‘The pastimes of Londoners’ and Ernst Rhys’ ‘The Great Cockney Tragedy’ (1891). Yeats did not restrict himself to commercial illustration. Following the example of private presses such William Morris’ Kelmscott Press, Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon’s Vale Press and William Nicholson’ s Beggarstaff Press, in 1902 and 1903, Yeats with the publisher Elkin Mathews (1851–1921) produced a limited edition series of broadsides. ‘A Broadsheet’ comprised a single sheet of handmade paper with hand set type which was hand printed and illustrated with hand-coloured line blocks. Contributors of literary content to the publication included Yeats family friends and associates such as William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory (1852–1932), George Russell (A.E.) (1867–1935), John Masefield (1878– 1967) and Frederic York Powell (1850–1904). The illustrations were provided by Pamela Colman Smith (1878 –1951) and Yeats for the 1902 series and by Yeats alone for the 1903 series. In 1905, the editor of the ‘Manchester Guardian’ C.P. Scott (1846-1932), commissioned John Millington Synge (1871–1909) and Yeats and to produce an illustrated report on the congested districts in Galway, Connemara, and Mayo. Yeats’ drawings of rural Ireland were subsequently published in J.M. Synge’s ‘The Aran Islands’ (1905) and ‘In Wicklow, West Kerry and Connemara’ (1911). In 1912 Yeats produced over fifty illustrations for ‘Life in the West of Ireland’ comprising examples of black and white line drawings, coloured prints, and reproductions of his paintings. Throughout his career, Yeats contributed many illustrations to Irish publications including ‘The Shanachie: an Irish illustrated quarterly’ (1906-1907). He also contributed to ‘The Book of St Ultan: a collection of pictures and poems by Irish artists and writers’ (1920), and his illustrations accompanied the writings of authors such as Thomas Bodkin (1887–1961), Padraic Colum (1881–1972), Patricia Lynch (1894–1972), Susan Mitchell (1866–1926), Frank O’Connor (1903–1966), George Russell (AE) (1867–1935), and his brother, William Butler Yeats. In 1908, Jack Yeats revived his concept of the limited edition illustrated broadside, this time working with his sister Elizabeth, the director Dun Emer Press, later the Cuala Press. ‘A Broadside’ was edited and illustrated by Yeats and comprised a four page publication of poetry, lyrics and illustrations. Again, associates of the Yeats family and leading figures of the Irish literary revival contributed material, among them being Padraic Colum, Douglas Hyde (1860–1949), Seumas O’Sullivan (1879-1958) and James Stephens (1882–1950). Yeats himself provided a number of poems under the pseudonym Wolf T. Mc Gowan. Like a ‘Broadsheet’, the series was hand-printed on hand-made paper by Elizabeth and hand-coloured by Yeats, his sister and assistants. The ‘Broadside’ series ran until 1915. In 1935 and 1937, the Cuala Press published two further series of ‘A Broadside’, this time co-edited by William Butler Yeats. For this venture, Yeats was simply one of a number of Irish artists who contributed designs, others included Harry Kernoff (1900-1974), Maurice McGonigal (1900-1979) and Seán O'Sullivan (1906–64). Jack Butler Yeats was elected an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1914 and a full academician in the following year.

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