Anne Yeats : The Everyday Fantastic

Painted sketch of two ancient Irish hounds

The Anne Yeats Archive

Anne Yeats was born into the most celebrated family of modern Irish culture. Her father, W. B. Yeats, uncle Jack B. Yeats, and aunts Elizabeth Corbet and Susan Mary Yeats are renowned for their artistic achievements and promotion of Irish identity during the Celtic Revival. The values and expressions of the Revival interested Yeats, but her own artistic development reflected her broader awareness of modern art and design. Yeats practised numerous art forms including painting, printmaking, theatre design and book illustration. A recurring interest in the relationships between observation and imagination and the realistic and the fantastic is present throughout her work. Yeats’s archive is a source for understanding her artistic interests and creative processes and is a record of the creativity and experimentation that exemplified her work.

History & Mythology

From the late-nineteenth to the early-twentieth century in Ireland, there was a resurgence of interest in Irish history and culture. Connected to Irish Nationalism, this movement became known as the Celtic Revival and was expressed prominently in literature and art. The Yeats family played a significant role in the Revival and Yeats gained an appreciation of Irish history, folklore and mythology from a young age. This inspired her interest in the history and mythology of other cultures, which she studied during her travels. The sketches and notes that she made during visits to Russia and China speak to her openness to acquire a knowledge and an appreciation of different cultures and their traditions.

Fantastic Creatures

Animals were a continual source of inspiration for Yeats. Birds, cats, horses, dogs, insects and an array of sea creatures were the subjects of many of her paintings and informed her design work regularly. Yeats’s archive includes numerous items that show her fascination with animals, how they sparked her imagination and inspired her artistic experimentation. This includes sketches from trips to Dublin Zoo, animal-themed costume designs, and works ranging from the mythological and fantastical to quick studies of household pets. Her drawings and paintings of animals vary in style from carefully made observational studies to decorative, colourful and almost psychedelic pictures.

Curious People

Yeats enjoyed sketching people and her archive contains intimate drawings of friends and colleagues, as well as representations of strangers who captured her attention. Some became the subjects of her more subjective and experimental imagery and others were developed as sources for her finished paintings or designs. From the 1940s onwards, Yeats spent time travelling in Europe, Asia, Canada and the United States of America. She gained an awareness of modern art movements and was particularly interested in the work of Picasso and Matisse. Their influence on Yeats can be detected in her increasingly experimental representation of the human figure.

Fabric & Form

Yeats enjoyed colour, pattern and texture in fabric, but was particularly interested in its structure and form. Numerous sketches and drawings show her fascination with the appearance of cloth when it is draped, wrapped, folded and hung, often in relation to the human figure. The everyday activity of laundry work was a recurring subject of interest to Yeats and her sketchbooks contain studies of women washing and hanging clothes to dry. Yeats elevated this domestic activity to more epic proportions, presenting laundry workers as monumental figures, while fabrics, bundled in baskets or hung from lines, form elegant motifs and fantastical compositions.

Theatre Design

In the early 1950s, Yeats combined her love of literature with her artistic skills and began to illustrate books and design book covers. Over a twenty-five-year period, she designed approximately forty book covers for the Irish-language publishers Sáirséal agus Dill and illustrated books by Bryan Guinness, Thomas Kinsella and Louis MacNeice. Yeats’s clientele of artists, poets and small-scale publishers ensured that she was less restrained by commercial considerations and enjoyed creative freedom in her designs and illustrations.

Art of Books

Yeats developed a fascination with the patterns, textures and tones that appear in plant life and other natural structures. This can be seen in her detailed and monochromatic drawings of native Irish foliage, as well as her still-lifes, where she experimented with different media, compositions and colours. Yeats often travelled for inspiration and these journeys are documented in numerous sketchbooks that include colourful landscapes in Ireland, France, Italy and China.

Patterns in Nature

Yeats was a founding member of Graphic Studio Dublin. Established in 1960, the studio taught printmaking and provided a work space and technical support for artists to create fine art prints. Yeats practised a variety of print techniques, but is probably best known for her monoprints, which allowed for greater experimentation. Yeats brought a wide range of visual interests to printmaking and produced works in both figurative and abstract styles. Her most lasting impact in Irish printmaking, however, is represented by the significant role played by Graphic Studio Dublin in developing and promoting fine art print in Ireland.

Fine Art Print

Yeats was a founding member of Graphic Studio Dublin. Established in 1960, the studio taught printmaking and provided a work space and technical support for artists to create fine art prints. Yeats practised a variety of print techniques, but is probably best known for her monoprints, which allowed for greater experimentation. Yeats brought a wide range of visual interests to printmaking and produced works in both figurative and abstract styles. Her most lasting impact in Irish printmaking, however, is represented by the significant role played by Graphic Studio Dublin in developing and promoting fine art print in Ireland.

Credits

Donal Maguire, Curator ESB Centre for the Study of Irish Art

Published online: 2022

Based on the National Gallery of Ireland exhibition Anne Yeats: The Everyday Fantastic (Nov 2021 - Aug 2022), curated by Donal Maguire, Grace O'Boyle and Donna Rose.  

Images reproduced with the kind permission of the Yeats Family.