Biography and History

John Butler Yeats was born in the parish of Tullylish, County Down, Ireland, on March 16, 1839. He attended Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated in 1862. He then studied law at King's Inns and was admitted to the bar in 1866.

In 1867 he ended his career as a barrister to pursue his life-long interest in drawing at Heatherley's Art School in London. Yeats went on to become a talented and well-known, albeit moderately successful, portrait painter, primarily of Irish writers and prominent people in the theater.

Yeats was also the father of four artistic children, including the poet W. B. (William Butler) Yeats, and the painter and illustrator Jack (John) Butler Yeats.

In December, 1907, Yeats accompanied his eldest daughter, Susan Mary (Lily) Yeats, to an embroidery exhibit in New York City for what was intended as a short visit. However, Yeats remained there for the following 14 years and never returned to Dublin. He took up residence at a boarding house run by the Petitpas sisters at 317 West 29th Street, and participated in the literary and art communities of the city. In New York, Yeats continued to paint portraits and sketch for commissions, as well as for friends and himself. He also wrote several essays on subjects that included art, Irish issues, and women, and was a public speaker at venues in the eastern United States. Within his circle of artistic friends in New York, Yeats was known as an exceptional conversationalist. During this time he nurtured friendships with Martha Fletcher Bellinger, the writer Van Wyck Brooks, Mary Tower Lapsley Caughey, the miniature painter Eulabee Dix (Becker), the painter John Sloan and his wife, Dolly, Ann Squire, the lawyer and art patron John Quinn, and several others. Yeats maintained contact with his family in Europe and friends in America through extensive correspondence.

On February 3, 1922, Yeats died, leaving behind an unfinished self-portrait, commissioned by Quinn, that he had been working on for 11 years. He is buried in Chestertown, New York, near Lake George in the Adirondacks.

Source: From the finding aid for C0672