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Yeats' letters to his lover could raise £350k at auction

By Eamon Sweeney

The sale of a rare collection belonging to Ireland’s most significant literary and artistic family will include letters from WB Yeats to his first lover.

The series of letters to Yeats’ life-long friend Olivia Shakespear will be the star attraction when it goes on sale at Sotheby’s in London on September 27, and is expected to fetch between £250,000-£350,000.

Charlie Minter, Sotheby’s head of Irish art, said: “The letters are of a very personal nature and are very insightful.

“Overall, the collection is extremely significant because there’s such a lot of it and it provides so much information about the Yeats family and their wealth of connections and what projects they were working on.”

The Yeats family are synonymous with the modernist literary and artistic tradition of Ireland in the 20th century and Sotheby’s Annual Irish Art Sale will include paintings, drawings, literary material and the personal effects of artist John Butler Yeats and his four children — WB Yeats, embroidery designer Lily Yeats, printing press pioneer Lolly and artist Jack Yeats.

Other lots include WB Yeats’ writing bureau and monogrammed rosewood brushes.

Also on offer will be the sketchbooks and final self-portrait of John Butler Yeats, and his portraits of all four children.

Jack Butler Yeats’ oil paintings from the 1950s and his painting palette will also be included.

Of greatest personal interest to Charlie Minter are the works of Jack Butler Yeats.

“There are a couple of oil paintings from towards the end of Jack’s life when he was at his best, but there are sketches right from when he was a little boy showing his talent from the very outset until the end, showing how he turned everything into a story,” Charlie said.

For further details of the auctions visit

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