Yeats painting with a sorry story

Artist's ‘Man in a Train, Thinking’ was inspired by hard-luck story of man who ‘lost’ a sweepstake fortune

Earlier this year, a mechanic in California lost out on a $1 million lottery prize because he could not find his winning ticket. Although he was identified in security camera footage from the shop where he had bought the ticket, he was unable to produce the crucial paper slip despite searching his house from top to bottom. Tough luck, indeed.

While rare, the circumstance of losing a winning lottery ticket is dreaded by all gamblers.

Unusually, the topic inspired an important painting by Jack B Yeats that goes under the hammer in de Veres Outstanding Irish Art auction in Dublin next month. The painting, Man In A Train, Thinking, measuring 18in by 24in, is estimated at €200,000- €300,000.

Woebegone expression

The painting depicts a man whom Yeats met on a train from Dublin to the west in 1928. According to the auctioneers, the artist noticed a man “in the corner of the carriage, who had a woebegone expression and whose coat and collar were buttoned up to his ears”.


He looked so wan and sad that the artist asked him: “Are you ill? Can I do anything to help you?”

"No, sir, thank you," replied the man."You see, it's like this, sir," he continued. "I bought a ticket for the Calcutta sweepstake for a pound note. Then I sold it to a man for £2. And now that ticket has won a prize for a hundred thousand," and he sighed dolefully.

“Great heavens,” Yeats said, “if that happened to me I’d have cut my throat.” Then, to the artist’s consternation, his sickly looking fellow-traveller moaned: “That’s just what I have done, sir!”

Yeats told this story at a dinner for the members of the Royal Hibernian Academy the following year, in 1929.

In the late 1920s and 1930s, the Calcutta Derby Sweepstake – run by the Royal Calcutta Turf Club (a colonial era racecourse in British Raj India) – was famous worldwide and tickets were bought throughout the "empire". The draw was a precursor to the Irish Hospitals Sweepstake – essentially a type of lottery based on the results of horseracing.

£62,500 fortune

In 1928 – when Yeats painted this picture – the Calcutta sweep was in the news in Ireland. On Monday, June 11th, 1928,

The Irish Times reported that an Irishman living in India was returning home with £62,500 (a fortune at the time) after winning the prize in the Calcutta sweep.

His name? "Charlie Murray, a middle-aged bachelor from Clones, Co Monaghan."

Man In A Train, Thinking was once owned by the late Terence de Vere White – once literary editor of The Irish Times, author, art collector and father of John de Vere White, the managing director of de Veres.

The painting was sold at an Adam’s auction in Dublin in 2006 for €295,000 to an unnamed buyer. It is now back on the market and can be viewed at de Veres, 35 Kildare Street, ahead of the auction which takes place in the Royal Hibernian Academy, Ely Place, Dublin 2, on Tuesday, December 1st at 6pm.