John "Jack" Butler Yeats, the son of the artist, John Butler Yeats and the brother of the poet W. B. Yeats, was born in London in 1871. Educated in County Sligo he moved to England where he studied art under Frederick Brown at the Westminster School of Art.
Yeats wrote and illustrated stories for books and magazines. In 1894 he produced the first cartoon strip version of Sherlock Holmes. He contributing to several newspapers and journals including the Manchester Guardian, the Daily Graphic, The Sketch, Cassell's Saturday Journal and Punch Magazine, where he used the pseudonym, W. Bird. He also edited and illustrated two monthly publications, Broadsheet (1902-03) and Broadside (1908-15).
After the First World War Yeats moved back to Ireland where he concentrated on painting and writing. 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. Samuel Beckett wrote that "Yeats is with the great of our time... because he brings light, as only the great dare to bring light, to the issueless predicament of existence."
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.
Besides painting, Yeats had a significant interest in theatre and in literature. He was a close friend of Samuel Beckett. He designed sets for the Abbey Theatre, and three of his own plays were also produced there. He wrote novels in a stream of consciousness style that Joyce acknowledged, and also many essays. His literary works include The Careless Flower, The Amaranthers (much admired by Beckett), and The Charmed Life. Yeats's paintings usually bear poetic and evocative titles. Indeed, his father recognized that Jack was a far better painter than he, and also believed that 'some day I will be remembered as the father of a great poet, and the poet is Jack'. He was elected a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1916. He died in Dublin in 1957, and was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.
Unusually, Yeats holds the distinction of being Ireland's first medalist at the Olympic Games in the wake of creation of the Irish Free State. At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, Yeats' painting The Liffey Swim won a silver medal in the arts and culture segment of the Games. In the competition records the painting is simply entitled Swimming.
Jack Butler Yeats died in Dublin in 1957.
About Cuala Press:
The Cuala Press was an Irish private press set up in 1908 by Elizabeth Yeats with support from her brother William Butler Yeats that played an important role in the Celtic Revival of the early 20th century. Elizabeth Yeats had started her career working with William Morris in London. In 1902, Elizabeth Yeats and her sister Lily joined their friend Evelyn Gleeson in the establishment of a craft studio near Dublin which they named Dun Emer. Dun Emer became a focus of the burgeoning Irish Arts and Crafts Movement, specializing in printing, embroidery, and rug and tapestry-making. Elizabeth Yeats ran the printing operation, and Lily managed the needlework department.
In 1904, the operation was reorganized into two parts, the Dun Emer Guild run by Gleeson and Dun Emer Industries under the direction of the Yeats sisters, and in 1908 the groups separated completely. Gleeson retained the Dun Emer name, and the Yeats sisters established Cuala Industries at nearby Churchtown, which ran the Cuala Press and an embroidery workshop.
It was intended that the new press would produce work by writers associated with the Irish Literary Revival. They ended up publishing over 70 titles in total, including 48 by William Butler Yeats. The press closed in 1946.
The Cuala was unusual in that it was the only Arts and Crafts press to be run and staffed by women and the only one that published new work rather than established classics. In addition to Yeats, Cuala published works by Ezra Pound, Jack B. Yeats, Robin Flower, Elizabeth Bowen, Oliver St John Gogarty, Lady Gregory, Douglas Hyde, Lionel Johnson, Patrick Kavanagh, Louis MacNeice, John Masefield, Frank O'Connor, John Millington Synge, John Butler Yeats, Rabindranath Tagore and others.
After Elizabeth Yeats died in 1940, the work of the press was carried on by two of her long-time assistants, Esther Ryan and Marie Gill under the management of Mrs. W. B. Yeats. The final Cuala title was Stranger in Aran by Elizabeth Rivers, which was published on July 31, 1946.
In 1969 the press was taken up by W. B. Yeats' children, Michael and Anne Yeats, with Liam Miller. Some titles were run in the 1970s, and valuable archives are still held by the press.
Cuala (pronounced COO-la) is an early name for Dublin.