One morning in 1867…

… in Dublin, lawyer John Butler Yeats, 28, graduate of Trinity Law School and father of William Butler, 2, and Lily, just a few months old, announces to his wife and son at breakfast that he has decided to chuck it all and become a painter. He moves the family to London so he can attend Heatherley School of Fine Art and hang out with the pre-Raphaelite painters at the home of Dante Gabriel Rosetti, 39.

Years later, when family friend Oscar Wilde would tell this story, listeners would ask, ‘Could he paint?’ Wilde would answer dramatically, ‘Not in the least! That was the beauty of it!’

W B Yeats by his father John Butler Yeats, 1900

W B Yeats by his father John Butler Yeats, 1900


This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

I will be doing presentations about Yeats, his father and their Irish-American benefactor, John Quinn, this spring in Birmingham, UK. Email me at for more details.

2 thoughts on “One morning in 1867…

  1. Yes–I figured that would add a note of irony. Was interested to find out he hung out with Rosetti. Found this description: ‘It was Rosetti in his beautiful tenebrous house in Cheyne Walk, furnished with an eclectic mix of old and new and an ever-changing entourage of rather many animals, who invented the style later known as shabby chic.’ Wish I could have been there…

  2. A nice small story, KD! It makes you wish for more, like, what Pre-Raphaelites did Yeats pere know. I loved the Wilde story but actually thought the painting was pretty good!

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