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COVER TO BE LOVED AS A CUPBOARD: THE YEATS MUSEUM IN THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF IRELAND HILARY PYLE according to George Moore, who had no difficulty in finding something acid to say about any of his Dublin compères, the painter Jack B. Yeats (1871–1957) looked bored in the National Gallery of Ireland. Moore though, while cynical, was astute and observant. In Vale he compared the artist with the playwright John Millington Synge: “Synge and Jack Yeats are like each other in this, neither takes the slightest interest in anything except life, and in their own deductions from life; educated men, both of them, but without aesthetics. . . . Synge did not read Racine oftener than Jack Yeats looks at Titian.”1 Yeats may have had little interest in Titian; but if he remained outside the National Gallery in preference to going inside, he had a natural acquisitive instinct all his life, seeing memorabilia of every kind as worthy of preservation to aid the muse. He stored items of likely and unlikely kind— mainly ephemeral—sorting and marking clearly everything he kept to make it readily available as a prompt to his memory as he painted Life. He approved of memorabilia with “a Museum interest” having only one qualification (in his own words)—that is, “without the permanent Mill Stone effect of a sure enough Museum.” In his book Sligo Yeats also declared that he would rather be loved as a cupboard than hated as a statue2: though evidently statues were acceptable because he did add, “a statue can have a cupboard inside.” He was to become one of the governors and guardians on the board of directors at the National Gallery of Ireland during the late 1930s, and won the affectionate respect of the attendant staff.3 THE YEATS MUSEUM IN THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF IRELAND 212 1 George Moore, Vale (London: William Heinemann, 1914), 140–41. 2 Jack B. Yeats, Sligo (London: Wishart & Company, 1930), 98. 3 Yeats was appointed to the board in November 1938, and served on it for about fifteen years. Christmas cards received from the attendant staff of the National Gallery of Ireland toward the end of his life are preserved in the Yeats Archive. Thus the notion of dedicating a museum to him rises naturally out of his own confirmed practice, but it also became more and more of a necessity as a space in which a great man, previously unjustly neglected because of the stature of his poet brother, might be honored. There is a museum of long-standing dedicated to his brother, the poet W. B. Yeats, in Sligo. This museum was inaugurated when the International W. B. Yeats Summer School came into being, forty years ago, as a collection of books and memorabilia that students and professors from all over the world might consult. It is a measure of the vision of Nora Niland, museum founder (she was County Librarian and therefore especially interested in W. B. Yeats’s publications), that she also managed to assemble some very important paintings by Jack Yeats and other artists, being conscious that contemporaneous art was an essential adjunct to the writings.4 A Jack B. Yeats Museum locates naturally in Dublin since (though he claimed that every picture he painted had a thought of Sligo in it) the artist lived for half of his life in the capital, and he painted historically significant aspects of the city when Ireland was at last attaining political independence . The time for establishing the museum was ripe: Ireland as a nation was maturing in Europe. The project was originally inspired by the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, a mansion (or cluster of palacíos joined together) where, instead of Picasso’s largest, most famous work, crucial early works demonstrating his development as an artist are to be found. The exhibit is crowned with a display of studies with the resulting canvases of his important Las Meninas series. Paris has another Picasso Museum, honouring this great modern artist as an adopted Frenchman. In their appropriate countries are other museums dedicated to national masters of European stature; and now in the National Gallery of Ireland, within the context of three centuries...


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