New NUI Galway Exhibition Features Art from Recent Yeats Sale

Nov 05 2018 Posted: 15:12 GMT

NUI Galway is delighted to announce a public launch of a special exhibition of its Yeats Collection. The launch will take place on Friday, 9 November, at 5pm in the James Hardiman Library’s Special Collections Reading Room.

Following controversial sales in the UK and Ireland of material from the Yeats’ family, the University is proud to confirm that its recent acquisitions ensure many valuable artefacts are to remain in Ireland. Now newly on display at NUI Galway’s James Hardiman Library, the display enhances the University’s existing special collections in the visual arts, and in English and Irish literature and theatre, showcasing its vibrant holdings of Irish cultural life.

Most of all the exhibition highlights the art and culture of the west. It draws attention to the work of women in renewing Ireland’s culture, and the early years of Ireland’s theatrical renaissance.

Fourteen original drawings of human and animal island life by Elizabeth Rivers reveal the sensitivity of an artist who spent more time on the Aran islands than all the Yeatses and Synges combined. Shown alongside original woodcuts and fine art books, these drawings, unusually, were made as illustrations for the very last Cuala Press book Stranger in Aran. Cuala Industries, founded by sisters Elizabeth and Lily Yeats as a feminist artistic collective, had by then become the foremost design workshop in Ireland. Its contributions to embroidery and printing are honoured by a unique hand painted banner used for publicity in art fairs. Further rarely-seen items highlight the contributions to the west of Lady Augusta Gregory and her son Robert Gregory, whose untimely death one hundred years ago in the First World War is remembered as part of forthcoming Armistice Day commemorations.

A group of academics, writers, artists, and concerned citizens, including the poets Paul Muldoon, Vona Groarke, Michael Longley, Nick Laird, and Marie Heaney, widow of Seamus Heaney, led by NUI Galway’s Dr Adrian Paterson and Trinity College’s Dr Tom Walker wrote an open letter to then Minister of Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphries, calling on her to save the collection for the nation. The sale and the controversy attracted worldwide interest, with questions asked in the Oireachtas, and feature articles published in the New York Times, the Irish Times, and other outlets. While it is clear that some items were saved, the sale still went ahead with all items available to the highest bidder.

Curator of the exhibition, Dr Adrian Paterson from NUI Galway’s English Department, said: “As well as being exquisite pieces of art, these works represent the breadth of culture in the west of Ireland. We get to see famous actors, including a future president of Ireland, in rehearsal; we catch glimpses into the lives of farmers, fishermen, and all the varied fauna of the Aran islands; and view early examples of advertising as pioneering women promote their work in craft fairs. As the world gathers to remember Armistice Day, original drawings by Robert Gregory (who died near the front when his plane crashed one hundred years ago) are a reminder of what might have been. But it's not a sombre exhibition. It's an exciting one. These intimate pieces reveal the talent of unsung artists like Elizabeth Rivers and Elizabeth C. Yeats, as well as more famous ones like Jack B. Yeats and his poet brother W.B. And they tell us how much we still owe to that generation of artists.”

The Yeats family collection is one of the most important to come out of Ireland this century. It features an entirely unique trove of material relating to the poet and Nobel Prize-winner W.B. Yeats, his brother Jack B. Yeats, their father the artist John Butler Yeats, and their sisters Susan (Lily) and Elizabeth (Lolly) Yeats. More than a family collection, it describes the making of modern Ireland by telling the story of the collaborations of the Irish Revival.

The rescue of such important items for the nation and future generations in the west by NUI Galway is thus cause for celebration. To mark the acquisitions and to highlight existing artwork the new Yeats Collection Exhibition runs until Christmas.

For more information contact the exhibition curators Adrian Paterson and Barry Houlihan


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