Yeats portrait to return to Muckross House after 145 years

‘Historically significant’ painting was bought by the State in the Yeats family auction

‘Mrs Herbert of Muckross with a Maltese Terrier’

‘Mrs Herbert of Muckross with a Maltese Terrier’


Nearly 150 years after it was rejected by her husband, a commissioned portrait of “Mrs Herbert of Muckross” by John Butler Yeats is returning to her former home in Killarney, Co Kerry, having being acquired by the State at auction.

The painting was of “historical significance”, the Trustees of Muckross House said, welcoming the purchase for £43,750 (about €50,000) of the oil painting at this week’s Sotheby’s auction of Yeats family items.

The figure was well above the guide price of £15,000-£20,000.

The wallpaper depicted in the portrait still hangs in the gun room in Muckross House, where Mrs Herbert, the wife of Major Henry Arthur Herbert, sat for the picture commissioned by the major in 1872, six years after their marriage.

But the portrait never graced the walls of the house, as the couple parted company shortly after it was completed.

Entitled Mrs Herbert of Muckross with a Maltese Terrier, the painting was one of the first big commissions for Yeats, whose son Jack B Yeats followed him into the visual arts.

Shortly after it was completed in 1873, Mrs Herbert, born Emily Julia Charlotte Keane, left Muckross altogether.

Major Henry consequently refused to accept the portrait and it ended up in the room of Yeats’s friend Edward Dowden, at Trinity College.

Following the death of Dowden, the painting was returned to the Yeats family, where it remained until the auction.

The Herberts were divorced in 1882. Emily died in 1911.

‘Rightful place’

Geraldine Rosney, chairwoman of the Trustees of Muckross House, saidshe was glad the portrait was back in its rightful place.

“It is very important that the collections at Muckross are maintained and enhanced with further additions”, with the aim of enriching the visitors’ experience, she said.

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys said the acquisition of the painting was a demonstration of the desire of her department and the board of trustees to continue to invest in Muckross House.

Planning permission has been granted to restore the house’s servants’ dining hall and the laundry room in the basement, and this is to go out to tender soon.