Jack Butler Yeats correspondence

Biographical and Historical Notes

Irish painter and illustrator, Jack B. Yeats, was born August 29, 1871, in London, England. He was the son of John Butler Yeats, a successful portrait painter, and younger brother of the distinguished Irish poet, William Butler Yeats.

In 1888 he attended the Westminster School of Art and later developed a career as a successful illustrator. His work appeared in such publications as Boy's Own Paper, Judy, and Vegetarian. He also illustrated a large number of broadsheets, many of which were published by Cuala Press, a small enterprise run by his sisters Elizabeth and Lily Yeats. In 1912 Yeats' drawings and paintings of Life in the West of Irelandwere published by Maunsel.

Until about 1910 Yeats worked mainly as an illustrator and with watercolors; then he began to focus on oil painting. In 1913 five of Yeats' oil paintings were shown in the famous Armory exhibition in New York City. Following this showing Yeats concentrated on oil paintings depicting the life and landscapes of Ireland, as well as scenes of Celtic myths. His paintings contributed to the upsurge of nationalist feeling in the arts that followed the winning of Irish independence.

As a writer Jack B. Yeats contributed for many years to the British magazine, Punch, under the pseudonym, "W. Bird." Books written and illustrated by Yeats include: A Little Fleet(1909), Sligo(1930), The Amaranthers(1936), and La la Noo(1943).


Chilvers, Ian and Harold Osborne (eds.). The Oxford Dictionary of Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. p.545.

Drabble, Margaret (ed.). The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Fifth edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985. p.1093.

Palmer, Helen M. and E.T. Williams (eds.). The Dictionary of National Biography, 1951-1960. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971. pp.1087-1088.

Scope and Content Note

The Jack Butler Yeats Correspondence is a collection of 51 letters from Yeats to Kilham Robarts and other members of the Society of Authors, with some copies of letters he had written to MacMillan & Co. and their responses to Yeats. Most of the copies are handwritten by Yeats. The letters and copies span the dates from 1934 to 1955.

Yeats' letters report his disputes with publishers over the American rights to Padraic Colum's The Big Tree of Bunlahy, for which Yeats provided the illustrations. The letters also discuss his own literary works, including The Amaranthers, The Charmed Life, and The Careless Flower; and the terms for the illustrations for the sequel to Patricia Lynch's The Turf Cutter's Donkey.

Also included in the correspondence as enclosures are copies of a "Memorandum of Agreement" between Jack B. Yeats and MacMillan & Co. and a copy of an "understanding" between the Society of Authors and MacMillan.