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Details & Cataloguing

Yeats: The Family Collection

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Jack B. Yeats, R.H.A.
1871-1957
WOODEN STORAGE CASE FOR TOY BOATS, DECORATED WITH NINETEEN WATERCOLOUR DRAWINGS
approx. 320 x 810 x 1210mm., boarded pine linen chest, hinged with lid, nineteen ink and watercolour drawings by Jack B. Yeats pasted onto inside of lid (largest watercolour 225 by 290mm.) , cast-iron carrying handles on two sides, seven slats of wood at base, lock 
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Catalogue Note

JACK B. YEATS’ WOODEN STORAGE CASE FOR TOY BOATS DECORATED WITH NINETEEN WATERCOLOUR DRAWINGS.

If W.B. Yeats was the revered literary mentor for the young John Masefield, it was Jack B. Yeats who was the confidant, friend and collaborator for the young writer. As noted by Hilary Pyle, ‘With the poet John Masefield Yeats built up a juvenile drama of the high seas and piracy that Masefield incorporated into his poetry, Yeats used for illustrative purposes, and later employed as subject-matter for some of his finest oils’ (Hilary Pyle, Jack B. Yeats a biography, London, 1989, p. 73). Philip W. Errington states ‘…in contrast to Masefield's connections to W.B. Yeats, the friendship with Jack Yeats was the friendship of escapism and the desperately juvenile which enabled a release upon which both men thrived’ (see Errington, ‘McGowan’s Code: Deciphering John Masefield and Jack B. Yeats’, ed. Warwick Gould, Yeats Annual 13, London, 1998, p. 308).

In April 1903 Masefield stayed for two weeks in South Devon with Jack Yeats. In a letter from Masefield to his future wife he noted ‘We were up late last night writing Cashlauna ballads [the Yeats’ cottage was named Cashlauna Shelmiddy (“Snail’s Castle”)]… I made two or three about… a scoundrel named Theodor [sic] who comes into an old penny dreadful that is Sunday reading here.’ (see Babington Smith, John Masefield – a life, Oxford, 1978, p.80). As noted by Masefield’s biographer, ‘soon the ‘Theodore’ ballads led on to a Theodore cult. For years JM and Jack Yeats regaled one another with the adventures, feuds, amours, whimsies, and misdemeanours of their legendary buccaneer. Several Theodore ballads were published in the Broad Sheet, but for the most part his doings were recorded – both in doggerel and amusing sketches – in the letters between them…’

Another collaboration between Yeats and Masefield was A Little Fleet, published in 1909 (see Errington B85(a) and James G. Nelson 1909.28). In this volume Yeats described and illustrated the manufacture of toy boats and the sailing of them down the Gara River in Devon. Verses within the book were by ‘the Fleet Poet’ and vessel names included theMonte, the Moby Dick, and the Theodore.

This large wooden box includes 19 ink and watercolour drawings by Yeats pasted onto the inside of the lid. They date from 1912 to 1913. Titles include ‘Old Style in the Gara Valley’, ‘Theodore of the Gulf’ (with added embellishments laid down), ‘The Count with the New Tobacco Box Tomb June 21st 1913’ and ‘The Theo in the Sargasso Sea July 29th 1912’. Subjects are both toy boats and the characters relating to the Theodore ballads.

It appears that these drawings have been pasted on top of earlier decorations (the reverse of which can be seen through a large split in the lid). A couple of lines from A Little Fleetsuggests that the earlier decorations included illustrations from that volume. Given the size of the box together with the subject of the illustrations, it seems entirely likely that this was originally used by Jack B. Yeats to store his toy boats.

Yeats: The Family Collection

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London