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John Butler Yeats

John Butler Yeats (Mar 16, 1839 – Feb 3, 1922) was an Irish artist and the father of William Butler Yeats, Lily Yeats, Elizabeth Corbett “Lolly” Yeats and Jack B. Yeats. He is probably best known for his portrait of the young William Butler Yeats which is one of a number of his portraits of Irishmen and women in the Yeats museum in the National Gallery of Ireland. His portrait of John O’Leary is considered to be his masterpiece.

Yeats was born in Lawrencetown, townland of Tullylish, County Down. His parents were William Butler Yeats (1806–1862) and Jane Grace Corbert, John Butler Yeats was the eldest of nine children. Educated in Trinity College Dublin and a member of the University Philosophical Society, John Butler Yeats began his career as a lawyer and devilled briefly with Isaac Butt before he took up painting in 1867 and studied at the Heatherley School of Fine Art. There are few records of his sales, so there is no catalogue of his work in private collections. It is possible that some of his early work may have been destroyed by fire in World War II. It is clear that he had no trouble getting commissions as his sketches and oils are found in private homes in Ireland, England and America. His later portraits show great sensitivity to the sitter. However, he was a poor businessman and was never financially secure. He moved house frequently and shifted several times between England and Ireland. At the age of 69 he moved to New York, where he was friendly with members of the Ashcan School of painters. He is buried in Chestertown Rural Cemetery in Chestertown, New York, next to his friend, Jeanne Robert Foster.

Yeats married Susan Pollexfen (13 July 1841 – 3 January 1900) on 10 September 1863 at St. John’s Church, Sligo. Susan Yeats was dismayed when her husband abandoned the study of law to become an artist. Susan is described as a “shadowy figure” who went “quietly, pitifully, mad”.

Painter John Butler Yeats was the father of poet William Butler Yeats and artist Jack Butler Yeats. His portrait of John O’Leary is considered his best work.

Synopsis

John Butler Yeats was born March 16, 1839, in Tullylish, Ireland. The father of poet William Butler Yeats and painter/illustrator Jack Butler Yeats, the artist’s portrait of the former is one of his most famous; it is housed among others in the Yeats museum in the National Gallery of Ireland. His 1904 portrait of John O’Leary is considered to be his masterpiece. Yeats died in New York City on February 3, 1922.

Early Life

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Born on March 16, 1839, in Tullylish, County Down, Ireland, John Butler Yeats attended Trinity College Dublin and studied law at King’s Inn in Dublin. He was admitted to the bar in 1866, and had a short-lived career as a barrister before pursuing his love of drawing in 1867.

Commercial Success

Yeats went on to attend Heatherleys Art School in London, and his portraits were frequently commissioned. A poor businessman, however, he and his family were never financially secure. The father of poet William Butler Yeats and painter/illustrator Jack Butler Yeats, the artist’s portrait of the former is one of his most famous; it is housed among others in the Yeats museum in the National Gallery of Ireland. His 1904 portrait of John O’Leary is considered to be his masterpiece.

Later Years

Yeats moved several times between England and Ireland throughout his life. At age 69, in 1907, he moved to New York City, where he lived for 14 years. While there, he roomed in a boarding house and communed with artists, intellectuals and writers, among them painters of the Ashcan School. Though he never returned to Ireland, Yeats stayed in contact with his family and friends through extensive correspondence.

John Butler Yeats died in New York City on February 3, 1922. He is buried in Chestertown.

John and Susan had six children: William Butler Yeats; Susan Mary “Lily” Yeats; Elizabeth Corbett “Lolly” Yeats; Robert Corbet Yeats; John “Jack” Butler Yeats; and Jane Grace Yeats.

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