Irish Artist Directory
John Butler

John Butler Yeats RHA (Irish Artist Directory)

Full Name: John Butler Yeats RHA

Lived: 1839 - 1922

Categories: Portraiture, Sketching, Oil Painting

Artist Biography

John Butler Yeats was one of Ireland’s finest portrait painters and during a long and productive lifetime, painted many of the leading figures of the Irish Renaissance. Among these were his famous sons, Jack B. Yeats, and the poet William Butler Yeats and writers such as Lady Gregory, AE and Padraic Column as well as the original members of the Abbey Theatre Company.

 The son of a Protestant clergyman from Sligo, John Yeats studied Law at Trinity College Dublin and graduated at the age of twenty-three with honours and a prize in Political Economy. The following year he married Susan Pollexfen, the daughter of a Sligo ship owner, whose family originated in Cornwall.  Soon after their marriage, Yeats began to study for the Irish Bar, to which he was called in 1866. But his efforts to earn a living in this field proved difficult and he decided to become a professional painter instead.

In 1867 he enrolled at London’s famous Heatherly Art School. He soon gathered a wide circle of friends around him, including artist J.T. Nettleship, George Wilson, and Edwin Ellis all of whom espoused Pre-Raphaelite ideals and with whom he formed a brotherhood devoted to the same. In 1872 Yeats began to work in earnest as a portrait painter. He and his family settled in Howth in 1880 and he began to show regularly at the RHA.  During this time he painted portraits and subject pictures which often featured young children.

In 1887 he returned to London, taking up residence at Bedford Park and gave up oil painting for some years in favour of charcoal and pencil. He returned to painting in oils in 1897 around the time of his activity as a visiting teacher at May Manning’s studio in Dublin. This renewed interest in Dublin’s artistic life prompted his return in 1901. In that year he showed forty-three works in a joint exhibition with Nathaniel Hone, as a result of which he received an important commission from Hugh Lane to paint portraits of prominent Irishmen such as John O’Leary, George Moore, John Redmond and others. Yeats never finished the commission, painting only characters in which he took an interest, and so William Orpen completed the task. He went to New York in 1908 and remained there for the rest of his life. 

His most famous portraits are those painted in Dublin between 1901 and 1908 where he surpassed his contemporaries with his originality of style and his sensitive interpretations. Dr James White has written: “ All his life he was engaged in an encounter with the personality of the sitter. He knew exactly what he wanted to do. It was to capture the moment of humanity in a smile, to enlarge experience by showing us a living being in a pencil sketch or an oil sketch”.


John Butler Yeats Art Previously On Sale at Adam’s Auctioneers

John Butler Yeats RHA (1839-1922) Portrait of Mrs. Helen Ashe-King (circa 1897) Oil on canvas, 66...

Hammer Price €32,000.00

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John Butler Yeats (1839 - 1922) Portrait of Maire Nic Shiubhlaigh Gouache

Hammer Price €10,000.00

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John Butler Yeats RHA (1839-1922) Children in the Street Watercolour heightened with white, 35 x ...

Hammer Price €7,200.00

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John Butler Yeats (1839-1922) Self Portrait, Sitting in a Chair Pencil, 50 x 38cm (19.6 x 14.9'...

Hammer Price €6,500.00

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John Butler Yeats RHA (1839-1922) Susan Mitchell Soft pencil, 35 x 24 cm (14 x 9.5'') Inscribed,...

Hammer Price €6,500.00

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