Yeats love letters, artwork goes on view in Dublin before auction

200 items from the ‘Yeats Family Collection’ are being sold by WB Yeats’s grandchildren

Highlights from the Yeats and family collection of art, letters and personal effects to be auctioned by Sotheby’s have been unveiled to the public at a special showing at the RHA in Dublin, ahead of the sale in London. Video: Bryan O'Brien


Love letters written by the poet WB Yeats and major oil paintings by his artist brother Jack B Yeats have gone on display in Dublin for three days before being auctioned in London later this month.

They are among hundreds of Irish items collectively expected to sell for up to €4.6 million when they go under the hammer at Sotheby’s saleroom in New Bond Street on Wednesday, September 27th.

The international auction house is holding an unprecedented two auctions devoted to Irish art and collectibles on the same day and highlights from both sales are on view to the public at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin’s Ely Place from Thursday until Saturday (September 16th) at 5pm .

Reflecting the importance of the auctions, Sotheby’s has sent 10 staff to Dublin for the viewing led by Lord Dalmeny, chairman of its UK and Ireland division.

The first auction features 200 items of art and personal effects from the “Yeats Family Collection” – being sold by the adult grandchildren of WB Yeats. The most valuable lot is a batch of correspondence between the Nobel Prize-winning writer and his first lover, the English writer Oliva Shakespear which, alone, is expected to sell for up to €400,000.

There is informed speculation in the art market that an American university is expected to be among the bidders.

Yeats letters

The correspondence, described by Sotheby’s as “of the highest importance to literary history”, contains numerous observations by Yeats on key events in the 1920s including the War of Independence, the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the death of Michael Collins, the Civil War and his first impressions of Ulysses.

Yeats’ family heirlooms being auctioned include WB Yeats’s writing desk, hairbrushes and a dining table he bought with the prize money he received for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.

Five major oil paintings by Jack B Yeats are on view including the highest-priced example: The Runaway Horse expected to sell for up to €280,000.

Yeats aside, the viewing also includes a selection of Irish Art mainly consigned to auction by private Irish and British collectors. The top lot is a Swiss Alpine landscape painting, dated 1912, by Sir John Lavery entitled The Summit of Jungfrau described as “a powerful and masterly landscape painting” expected to sell for up to €250,000, that has been in a private collection in London’s Hampstead and unseen in public for decades.

Among the first visitors to the viewing in Dublin on Thursday morning were Derry and Mary O’Donovan of Sandymount, Dublin 4, who said the exhibition was “wonderfully curated” but would not be bidding as prices were “out of our league”. Their favourite piece was a Portrait of Elizabeth Corbet ‘Lolly’ Yeats by John Butler Yeats (her father) which has a top estimate of €33,800.

When the viewing in Dublin ends on Saturday, the items will be shipped back to London where they will go on public display ahead of the auction.

Entry to the viewing at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) Ely Place, Dublin 2 is free and opens daily from 10am-5pm Thursday, Friday & Saturday (September 14th, 15th & 16th).