National Gallery board members ‘concerned’ by €1.5m price for Jack B Yeats painting

Minutes of meetings show reservations about purchase price of Bachelor’s Walk, In Memory

The National Gallery paid €1.5 million for a painting by Jack B Yeats despite reservations from some of its own board members about the cost.

The price was more than 75 per cent above the highest figure paid by the gallery for a new painting in well over a decade.

Minutes of meetings show the National Gallery of Ireland board was told the painting, Bachelor’s Walk, In Memory, was initially being offered by its owners at a negotiable price of £1.7 million (€1.93 million) but that Yeats paintings often exceeded their asking price.

One board member, Prof Owen Lewis, said he was supportive of the purchase but had “serious reservations” about the asking price given the extent of the gallery’s existing Yeats Collection of 37 works.


Others also supported the purchase over fears of a backlash if the artwork left the country but said the source of funding would need to be “fully investigated”.

The picture had been on long-term loan to the National Gallery since 2009 with then director Sean Rainbird saying it and another picture, Grief ,were the “strongest painting[s]” in their collection of Yeats’s work.

One board member suggested a public funding drive or crowdfunding effort could be considered, but Mr Rainbird was worried this would take too long to get up and running.

A board meeting in May 2021 heard that “informal verbal confirmation” had been received from Government that €1 million in funding would be made available to purchase the painting. At the time the gallery had heard through sources the painting was being offered to private collectors for €1.5 million.

The minutes said: “A counter offer in the region of €1.4 to €1.5m was being proposed by the gallery for a number of reasons.”

They were also aware the painting was insured for £1 million (€1.13 million) and that it was important that a national gallery not be seen to be “setting the market” or “inflating prices”.

Asked if there was a chance the painting could leave the country if it wasn’t bought by the gallery, the board was told US-based collectors were likely to become interested.

“The likelihood of the work leaving the country was therefore high,” noted the minutes.

In June 2021, the board was told that a price of €1.5 million – including fees, commissions and taxes – had been agreed with the vendor through the auction house Sotheby’s.

Minutes of a board meeting said: “The gallery has received formal confirmation from the department (attached), which conveys the department’s position on the different sources of funding.

“[A sum of] €1 million is offered, along with a further headroom of €400,000. While not specifying exact conditions, the department’s intentions and expectations are clear.”

The gallery had originally refused access to most of the information on the purchase of the painting following a request made under Freedom of Information laws.

However, the case was appealed to the Information Commissioner, who ruled most of the information could be released and was not commercially sensitive given the National Gallery now owned the painting.

The commissioner said the records “relate to extremely specific negotiating positions that are relevant only to the particular transaction”.

Asked about the purchase, a spokesman for the gallery said: “For security and commercial reasons, we do not comment on the purchase price of works of art in the gallery’s collection.”