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Collection Overview

Yeats, John Butler, 1839-1922
Princeton University. Library. Special Collections
John Butler Yeats Collection
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
1909-1978 (mostly 1911-1922)
22 boxes, 8 items, and 9.31 linear feet
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Boxes 1-21; 2A


Consists of original manuscripts, drawings, correspondence, miscellaneous materials, photographs and portraits, articles, clippings, and other printed material by and related to the Irish portrait painter John Butler Yeats.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of original manuscripts, drawings, correspondence, miscellaneous materials, photographs and portraits, articles, clippings, and other printed material by and related to John Butler Yeats. The bulk of the collection, however, is composed of typed transcripts of this correspondence as well as copies of other correspondence (primarily letters by and to John Quinn from the John Quinn Memorial Collection in the New York Public Library), and other research material.

The manuscripts include an autograph draft of "The Last of Her Sex," typed and corrected drafts of "Extravaganza Written in Anticipation," "The Haunted House," "Jack B. Yeats," "A Painter on Painting" (which appeared in The Seven Arts, April 1917), and an untitled manuscript.

The drawings consist of two pencil self-portraits, several of women, and one of an unidentified group.

The original correspondence (with many of the original envelopes) from 1908 to 1922 documents Yeats's years in New York. The majority of the correspondence is by Yeats to several of his American friends, including Martha Fletcher Bellinger, Mary Tower Lapsley Caughey, Eulabee Dix (Becker), Dolly Sloan, John Sloan, Ann Squire, and others. Many of these letters are heavily illustrated with humorous sketches and drawings. Some of the envelopes addressed to Mary Tower Lapsley Caughey contain notes by her. There are also letters to Yeats by others, including his daughters Elizabeth Corbet (Lollie) Yeats and Susan Mary (Lily) Yeats, and his son Jack (John) Butler Yeats. Furthermore, there is a small selection of correspondence between various persons about Yeats.

The photographs show the sitting room in Yeats's house in Dundrum, Ireland, and Anne Yeats (daughter of W. B. (William Butler) Yeats) as a young child with her nurse; and there are photographic reproductions of Yeats's portraits of Mary Tower Lapsley Caughey, Mary-Lapsley Caughey Guest, and Padraic Colum, as well as of some drawings.

The miscellaneous materials consist of envelopes addressed by Yeats to Charlotte (?) Jordan and W. B. (William Butler) Yeats, a list of Yeats's articles by Elizabeth Corbet (Lollie) Yeats, a drawing with notes by Mary Tower Lapsley Caughey, a typed and corrected draft of "Memories of J. B. Yeats" by Mary-Lapsley Caughey Guest (?), a poem, "Theocritus," by Mary-Lapsley Caughey Guest, and a typed transcript of "An Incident of the British Occupation of Egypt in 1882" by Captain George Freeman (Fitzgerald) (?).

The research material was compiled by William Murphy, Glenn O'Malley, and Donald Torchiana-probably used by Murphy in his research for his biography Prodigal Father: The Life of John Butler Yeats, 1839-1922 (1978), and intended for use by O'Malley and Torchiana in a publication of the correspondence of Yeats to his American friends. Included are typed transcripts and photocopies of the original correspondence by Yeats in the collection, as well as of his correspondence to Van Wyck Brooks, Robert Henri, and others. Also present are typed transcripts, photocopies, and microfilm of the correspondence of John Quinn with John Butler Yeats, Jack (John) Butler Yeats, and others from the John Quinn Memorial Collection in the New York Public Library. In addition, there are notes about the correspondence and other related material.

Articles by Yeats, written while in New York, include essays, poetry, and letters to the editor. The clippings document Yeats's social circle in New York, publications of his essays and letters, interviews, various posthumous remembrances, and other related topics. The other printed material includes miscellaneous publications about Yeats and Jack (John) Butler Yeats.

Collection Creator Biography:

Yeats, John Butler, 1839-1922

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.

Collection History


Gift of Mary Lapsley Guest, Glenn O'Malley, Prof. Charles C. Gillispie, Mr. Van Wyck Brooks.

Custodial History

The collection was formed as a result of a departmental practice of combining into one collection manuscript material of various accessions relating to a particular author.


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Karla J. Vecchia in 2001. Finding aid written by Karla J. Vecchia in 2001.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

John Butler Yeats Collection; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Boxes 1-21; 2A

Find More


The manuscript "A Painter on Painting," found in draft form in the collection (see Box1, Folder 1), was printed in The Seven Arts (April, 1917), pp. 677-80 (see Box 20, Folder 1). The most comprehensive biography of Yeats is Prodigal Father: The Life of John Butler Yeats (1839-1922) (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978) by William Murphy.

Subject Terms:
Artists -- Ireland -- 20th century -- Correspondence.
Artists -- Ireland -- 20th century -- Drawings.
Boardinghouses -- New York (N.Y.) -- 20th century.
Genre Terms:
Bellinger, Martha Fletcher, b. 1870
Caughey, Mary Tower Lapsley.
Dix, Eulabee, 1878-1961
Quinn, John, 1870-1924
Sloan, John, 1871-1951
Squire, Ann
Yeats, John Butler, 1839-1922
Yeats, John Butler, 1839-1922