Jack Butler Yeats

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John "Jack" Butler Yeats (29 August 1871 – 28 March 1957) was an Irish artist. His early style was that of an illustrator; he only began to work regularly in oils in 1906.[1] His early pictures are simple lyrical depictions of landscapes and figures, predominantly from the west of Ireland—especially of his boyhood home of Sligo. His brother was William Butler Yeats. Yeats' works contain elements of Romanticism, and are grounded in fine observation and brilliant draughtsmanship.

Contents

Life

Yeats was born in London, England. He was the youngest son of Irish portraitist John Butler Yeats, and the brother of the Nobel Prize winning poet William Butler Yeats. He grew up in Sligo with his maternal grandparents, before returning to his parents' home in London in 1887. Early in his career he worked as an illustrator for magazines like the Boy's Own Paper and Judy, drew comic strips, including the Sherlock Holmes parody "Chubb-Lock Homes" for Comic Cuts, and wrote articles for Punch under the pseudonym "W. Bird".[2] In 1894 he married Mary Cottenham, also a native of England and two years his senior, and resided in Wicklow according to the Census of Ireland, 1911.

From around 1920, he developed into an intensely Expressionist artist, moving from illustration to Symbolism. He was sympathetic to the Irish Republican cause, but not politically active. However, he believed that 'a painter must be part of the land and of the life he paints', and his own artistic development, as a Modernist and Expressionist, helped articulate a modern Dublin of the 20th century, partly by depicting specifically Irish subjects, but also by doing so in the light of universal themes such as the loneliness of the individual, and the universality of the plight of man. When he died, Samuel Beckett wrote that "Yeats is the great of our time...he brings light as only the great dare to bring light to the issueless predicament of existence."[3]

His favourite subjects included the Irish landscape, horses, circus and travelling players. His early paintings and drawings are distinguished by an energetic simplicity of line and colour, his later paintings by an extremely vigorous and experimental treatment of often thickly applied paint. He frequently abandoned the brush altogether, applying paint in a variety of different ways, and was deeply interested in the expressive power of colour. Despite his position as the most important Irish artist of the 20th century (and the first to sell for over £1m), he took no pupils and allowed no one to watch him work, so he remains a unique figure. The artist closest to him in style is his friend, the Austrian painter, Oskar Kokoschka.

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