The Yeats Family Collection – The Final Chapter

Collectors tempted by the remarkable items offered at the recent Sotheby’s sale of items from the Yeats collections (Sept. 27th), may be interested to hear that a further and very significant tranche of items from the Yeats family has been consigned to Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers of Castlecomer, and will be offered for sale in November at their Chatsworth Salerooms, Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny.

The sale will include highlights such as a sketchbook signed and compiled by W.B. Yeats during the year he spent at art college in Dublin (1884-5), one of only two known to exist (the other made £28,000 at Sotheby’s). It includes about a dozen portrait drawings in a style similar to that of his father, J.B. Yeats, but less fluent and confident, also some art-college studies, a poem (apparently unpublished), a draft telegram, a list of names and some other jottings.

Also, what is possibly an equally significant item: the original and very fine ink sketch by J.B. Yeats reproduced in W.B. Yeats’ first separate publication, Mosada (1886). Mosada itself is a great rarity, unobtainable for many years; to our knowledge the original sketch has never been exhibited. It is a superb drawing, characteristic of John Butler Yeats at his very best, bringing out his twenty-year-old son’s vulnerability as well as his determination.

Memorabilia include a pair of WBY’s optical glasses, with a photograph in which he is wearing an identical pair; also a much more elegant pair belonging to ‘Cottie’, Mary Cottenham Yeats, wife of Jack; his monogrammed briefcase which he subsequently gifted to his son Michael, a fine photograph of Maud Gonne, from WBY’s collection; RDS badges belonging to WBY and his wife George; silver gilt first-prize medals from the Tailteann Games; a set of Tarot cards designed by Pamela Colman Smith (probably George’s), and a very unusual green silk cloak lined in white, which we believe may relate to the rituals of the Order of the Golden Dawn (not to be disclosed to non-members).

A large collection of other works by J.B. Yeats includes a fine sketch of Mrs. Harry Thaw, New York socialite, sketched in the courtroom where her husband was on trial for the murder of her former lover; also a fine coloured drawing of his daughter Lily, good drawings of the old Fenian John O’Leary and of Jack Yeats’ collaborator Pamela ‘Pixie’ Colman Smith, and a portfolio of his family sketches, featuring various aunts, uncles and cousins, and many, many drawings of his long-suffering wife Susan. There is also a very good self-portrait in pencil, and a group of his sketchbooks.

Work by Jack Yeats includes a sketch, probably unique, of Lady Gregory’s only son, Robert, who died in his airplane over Italy in the dying days of World War 1, a trial version for Jack’s ‘Broadsheet’ series, and an early watercolour of a sailing ship. There is a carved block of green Connemara marble, engraved with Jack Yeats’ monogram, perhaps a memento of a visit to Lady Gregory at Coole; some Japanese coloured woodcuts from Jack’s collection, and a large cardboard sheet on which Jack Yeats has listed the contents of a seven-drawer chest, including his paintings, watercolours, sketchbooks and so on: a real collector’s delight. There is also a large print by the Austrian painter Oscar Kokoschka, inscribed by Kokoschka himself to his Irish friend Jack Yeats, and a fine drawing by the ‘Punch’ artist Phil May from Jack’s personal collection.

On offer are two fine embroidered panels by W.B.’s sister Lily Yeats, watercolours by Elizabeth Corbet Yeats (‘Lolly’), linen and material from the Cuala Industries, some attractive drawings by Jack’s wife Cottie, whose work is rare, and a very good collection of hand-coloured prints from the Cuala Press. There is a series of four inscribed costume drawings by Edward Gordon Craig for WBY’s play The Hour-Glass; a group of watercolour flower studies by Elizabeth Pollexfen, WBY’s grandmother, and a watercolour landscape (probably unique) by his mother Susan Pollexfen (later Mrs. J.B. Yeats).

Household items and furniture that graced the houses of the Yeats families will be for sale. Items such as family silver, bureau, bookcase, grandfather clock, Georgian furniture, and musical instruments including the family harp.

We are still cataloguing, and further discoveries are possible at any moment Fully illustrated catalogue will be available in due course.

George Fonsie Mealy
Company: Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers
Address: Chatsworth Street, Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland
Phone: 056-4441229


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