Irish Government steps in to buy Yeats Family Collection items after fears they could be sold abroad

Irish Government steps in to buy Yeats Family Collection items after fears they could be sold abroad

THE Irish State has purchased a number of significant items from the Yeats Family Collection, following fears they could be lost to Ireland at auction.

The collection, featuring more than 200 lots belonging to Ireland’s best-known cultural family, went under the hammer at a Sotheby’s auction in London today.

Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys said the State had provided funding to the National Museum of Ireland and the National Library of Ireland to buy a “significant” portion of the archive.

Ms Humphreys said: “Over the past 9 months, I have been working with the National Library and the National Museum to ensure the purchase for the State of significant items, as identified by both institutions, which were due to be auctioned in London today.

“These items will now form part of the national collections of our cultural institutions.


“In particular, the correspondence acquired by the National Library will significantly enhance what is already the largest collection of Yeats material in the world – a collection which began, as far back as 1936.”

Minister Humphreys added that Ireland has acquired more than €4million worth of Yeats material over the past two years.

She said dozens of objects had been bought through both “direct purchase and donation.”

The objects bought by the Irish State at today’s Sotheby’s auction in London include:

  • A walnut writing table that fitted over the side of WB Yeats’s bed, which he used while convalescing towards the end of his life.
  • A Burmese giltwood coffer used to store manuscripts.
  • A chest of drawers decorated on the inside with paintings by his brother, Jack.
  • A collection of ‘occult’ artefacts which show the influence of occultism and spiritualism on his work.
  • A series of Japanese masks. Yeats incorporated elements of Noh Theatre into his own playwriting.
  • A set of the first issue of the Irish Free State coinage, given to WB Yeats by the Minister for Finance in 1928.

In July this year, the Irish State provided €650,000 to the National Library and National Museum for the purchase of furniture, diaries, letters between WB Yeats and his wife George and “other artefacts.”

It is yet to be revealed exactly how much the Irish State spent at today’s auction, but it is expected to number in the hundreds of thousands.


The paintings, letters and personal effects of the Yeats family on offer at Sotheby’s sale have a combined top valuation of £1.9 million (€2.1 million).