Jack Yeats

Bruce Arnold

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Jack Yeats (1871-1957) stands as a giant figure in Irish twentieth-century art. An isolated artist throughout his life, Yeats dominated solely through the talent, magic, and inventiveness of his painting. His vision and his standing, as well as many critical judgments during the forty years since his death, have provoked controversies which Bruce Arnold confronts in this major biography. The author tells the full story of the artist’s life and analyzes his prodigious output. This included not only some one thousand oil paintings and vast numbers of illustrations, comic cartoons, drawings, and watercolors but also seven novels and nine plays. An innately original man, Yeats eschewed all movements, took no pupils, taught only by example. Yet he exerted a fundamental and fascinating influence on Irish culture during his long and diverse life.

Based on extensive research in primary sources, this generously illustrated book describes the life of Jack Yeats, son of the portrait painter John Butler Yeats and younger brother of the poet William Butler Yeats. Born in London, Jack spent his formative years in his grandparents’ home in Ireland. His first show was held in England, but the young artist was inexorably drawn to Ireland where he created in drawings and paintings an Irish spirit and language that increasingly captured and glorified the heroism, mystery, myths, and legends of the Irish people. This book explores Yeats’s friendships with John Masefield, John Millington Synge, Samuel Beckett, and others; his self-identification with his chosen country; and his struggle against indifference and mockery. It provides a compelling portrait of the complex and enigmatic artist whose reputation and artistic vision have become increasingly admired in the years since his death.

Bruce Arnold is literary editor of the Irish Independent. He is the author of Mainie Jellett and the Modern Movement in Ireland, published by Yale University Press, and of Orpen: Mirror to an Age, both biographies of outstanding contemporaries of Jack Yeats.

"Bruce Arnold has chosen a good time to bring out this massively detailed biography, drawing on the vast archives preserved by his subject’s niece, Anne Yeats. . . . He thoroughly captures the complex, confusing, colourful surface."—Brenda Maddox, Literary Review

“Mr. Arnold’s biography gives proper attention to Yeats’s art, but covers many other matters as well. . . . The Yeats family as a whole—the poet, the painter, and their two energetic sisters—was influential in all aspects of the Irish renascence of the early twentieth century, a fact that gives Mr. Arnold a wonderful, and wonderfully quotable, cast of characters for this splendid, well-illustrated biography.”—Atlantic Monthly

“There are many reasons to be grateful for Bruce Arnold’s masterly biography. . . . By all means, buy the book. It abounds in nuggets.”—Hugh Kenner, Washington Times

“The book has many merits. Arnold covers Jacks’ long and interesting life in abundant detail. We have hundreds of line drawings, sketches, portraits, and photographs, and a marvelous collection of coloured plates in a large volume.”—William M. Murphy, Irish Arts Review

"It is doubtful if another book on Jack Yeats of similar size and scope will appear soon."—Irish Arts Review

"Arnold has chronicled the life of Irish artist Yeats in exhaustive detail, presenting a portrait of the man and his achievements as illustrator, painter, playwright, and novelist. . . . Arnold has a profound knowledge of Irish history and culture, allowing him to place the artist within the context of Irish History, culture, and his friendship with contemporaries. . . . Thoroughly researched, convincingly argued, and excellently written, Arnold’s study should be a touchstone for Yeats studies."—Choice

“Arnold is helpful on virtually every aspect of Yeats’s work. . . . The artist is seen among the evidences of his works, his friends, and associates.”—Denis Donoghue, New York Review of Books

ISBN: 9780300075496
Publication Date: October 11, 1998
428 pages, 8 x 10
250 b/w + 16 color illus.