Jack B Yeats, one of Ireland’s foremost painters, was born in London on the 29 August 1871, the youngest child of John Butler Yeats and his wife Susan (nee Pollexfen). His father, who had trained as a lawyer, was also a painter although not nearly as successful as his son would become.
Jack spent his early years moving between London, Dublin and his maternal grandparent’s home in Sligo before moving to London in 1887. He studied at the South Kensington School of Art and the Chiswick School of Art where he met Mary Cottenham White who he married in 1894. They moved to Devon in where he developed his artistic career as an illustrator for various journals, and after focusing on watercolours had his first exhibition in London in the 1897.
The couple left Devon for Ireland in 1910, first settling in Greystones, Wicklow, before moving to Dublin and finally into 18 Fitzwilliam Square where they spent the rest of their lives.
Back in Dublin Yeats began to work in oils and travelled widely capturing images of rural life, particularly in the West of Ireland and, of course, scenes in Dublin. One of his most famous and beloved paintings is The Liffey Swim (1924) which is now in the National Gallery. He entered this in the Paris Olympics and won the Silver Medal which is part of the Jack B Yeats archive that was donated to the gallery by his niece Anne Yeats, herself a painter and stage designer, in 1996. In 1999, his painting The Wild Ones was sold at Sotheby’s, London, for £1.2 million, the highest price ever paid for one of his works.
He continued to produce work for publication including illustrations for JM Synge’s The Aran Islands. And he wrote numerous plays, a collection of short stories for children and novels through the 1930s and 1940s. He died on 28 March 1957 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery. He was 85.