By 1897 Jack Butler Yeats had moved away from black and white journalistic illustration to establish himself as a serious artist. However in 1910, the allure of the cartoon reasserted itself and the first of Yeats’s illustrations for Punch, signed with the pseudonym W. Bird, appeared in the November 2nd edition. Yeats’s contribution to Punch would prove both prolific and enduring; he surreptitiously contributed more than 500 W. Bird cartoons between 1910 and 1941, with a final appearance in 1948.
This exhibition, which includes fifty-six of the Gallery’s sixty-three Punch cartoons by Yeats, provides a unique opportunity to highlight this lesser-known aspect of his career. In addition to demonstrating the artist’s skill with pen and ink, these drawings evidence his wit, his often frivolous sense of humour and his need to explore humanity and society through a variety of media. Character types and topical events are examined as Yeats comments on the foibles of the social classes and various professions, the intrusion of modern technology on Victorian life, and political events such as the suffragist and trade union movements. Although Yeats never admitted that he was the illustrator W. Bird, his continued engagement with Punch, after he had achieved critical success and financial security as an oil painter, convey both his enjoyment of, and need for, this very different creative outlet.