Updated: 15/09/17 : 07:21:53
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Yeats Collection for sale

By Declan Foley
Berwick, Australia


Before their deaths Michael and Anne Yeats donated their father's collection of papers, art etc to the people of Ireland. Anne also donated the artifacts of their esteemed uncle, Jack B.Yeats.

Today the Yeats family are not of the pecuniary disadvantage their great-grandfather, John Butler Yeats, nor of the early life of their grandfather, W B. Yeats. Whilst the Yeatses have no legal obligation to donate these items to the people of Ireland i.e. The State. Rather, they do have an obligation under the old French principle of "'noblesse oblige" 'the obligation of honourable, generous, and responsible behaviour associated with high rank or birth'.

The fact that 26 counties of Ireland is designated a Republic, may have some bearing on the dismissal of behaviour associated with "high rank', but they have a responsibility as people of noble birth, and have no moral right to ignore the role that "Willie and Lily and Lolly and Jack" had in creating the Irish State. Nor the important role their great-grandfather John Butler Yeats had in the arts, which is recognised internationally to this day.

Whilst JBY may well have been the "Prodigal Father" of the title of William M. Murphy's fine biography, his role in propagation of the arts, and artists, was enormous.

His work for the Hugh Lane Gallery, along with Lady Gregory, A.E et al should in fact be recognised by the donation of his Self-portrait to the Hugh Lane Gallery.

But, much more than this is the fact that the heirs of John Butler Yeats and his son W. B owe an enormous, and practicably, unrepayable debt, to innumerable academics and scholars who have researched and published books on the Yeats family, as well as lecturing internationally.

For instance when I was preparing "The Only Art of Jack B Yeats" one academic contributor remarked, "The usual payment, one or two copies of the book". Yet, the Yeats children received more than that: they received a copyright payment from DACS: The Design and Copyright Artists Society, for each Jack B. Yeats painting reproduced in the book.

In 1945 Richard Ellman was the first person to study the papers of W B Yeats in the Dublin home of George Yeats. She made him promise he would downplay her role in the life of W. B. Ellman kept his word, as is illustrated in the one page Foreword to the First Edition (1949) of  "Yeats: The Man and the Masks". Ellman re-issued the book in 1979 - George had died in 1968 - the Foreword is now twenty-two pages. Ellman recognised, and publicly acknowledged for the first time, the enormous role of George in W. B.'s artistic life, particularly in his poems and plays. 

George's reply to Ellman's congratulatory words on the great work she had done, sorting, and classifying, the papers of W B Yeats was, "just a hen gathering the scraps!"

My contention is that the Yeats family today owe far more to the innumerable women and men who have written and published academic papers and books on W B Yeats, as the Yeats family have received more in financial income, via royalties, than the authors. Ergo, they have an obligation to not alone, Ireland, but to these people to retain these artifacts in Ireland.

The Nobel Prize Medal was on permanent loan to the people of Sligo, residing in the County Sligo Museum until recently: when the children of the late Michael B and Grainne Yeats, decided to move it to the National Library of Ireland: solely for tax purposes: i.e to receive a reduction in the income tax they pay on royalties etc from the estate of W B Yeats and Jack B Yeats. 

Perhaps the Yeats children, might peruse their grandfather's great poem

'September 1913'

What need you come to sense
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the halfpence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone;

The other alternative is for wealthy Irish patriots nee to step up to the plate to rescue yet again a part of Ireland's National Heritage.

Declan J Foley is editor of "The Only Art of Jack B. Yeats" and "Yeats 150"