Yeats painting bought for £250 could fetch €800,000 at auction


A PAINTING of small-town life in Co Mayo that inspired Éamon de Valera – and was sold 67 years ago for just £250 – could now be worth €800,000.

The Jack B Yeats painting, which epitomises de Valera’s idealistic vision of rural Ireland, is to be sold at auction next week. A Fair Day, Mayoso impressed the founder of Fianna Fáil when he saw it on display in Dublin in 1927 that he borrowed it for his office.

Although Yeats had witnessed abject poverty during his travels in the west of Ireland, the picture instead portrays a village street scene “joyous with the sounds of industry” and features a proverbial “comely maiden”. This was the idealised image of rural contentment de Valera articulated in “the Ireland that we dreamed of” radio broadcast on St Patrick’s Day, 1943.

However, he did not buy the painting and it was given back to the artist. While de Valera may have “valued material wealth only as a basis for right living”, it was a decision his heirs may regret. The painting was subsequently sold by the Dawson Gallery in 1944 to a south Dublin family for £250 (about €300) in what appears to have been an exceptionally lucrative investment decision.

The buyer was Tedcastles Oil company founder JP Reihill of Deepwell House, Blackrock, and the painting has remained in the family’s ownership ever since. They have now decided to sell it at Adam’s important Irish art auction on September 28th.

Auctioneer David Britton said the painting, which measures 2ft by 3ft (61cm by 91cm), was expected to sell for between €500,000 and €800,000.

In a catalogue note for the sale, art expert Dr Róisín Kennedy said A Fair Day, Mayowas based on a memory of a visit to the north Mayo town of Ballycastle by the artist in 1905 and that “Yeats’s sympathetic reading of Irish rural life clearly impressed Éamon de Valera”.

Although in private ownership, the painting has been seen in public and was recently loaned temporarily to the Irish Museum of Modern Art for The Moderns exhibition.

Art investors are keen on Yeats who is seen as the most “bankable” Irish artist.

Ten years ago, the art critic and commentator Bruce Arnold said: “In volatile times, a Jack Yeats in the room is better than a million in technology shares.”