The Gift of Knowledge

Press Release: 14 October 2011

Detail from photograph of Sir Denis Mahon at home in Cadogan Square, London

The Gift of Knowledge: Exhibition of material from the Sir Denis Mahon library and archive to go on display at the National Gallery of Ireland

A number of rare and antiquarian volumes together with a selection of unique archive material from the collection gifted to the National Gallery of Ireland by the scholar and collector, Sir Denis Mahon, will go on display in the Print Gallery from Monday, 17 October 2011, as part of a special exhibition, The Gift of Knowledge: Enriching the Library and Archive Collections.

In 2010, Sir Denis presented his entire personal library and archive to the National Gallery of Ireland. The collection comprises thousands of volumes reflecting the scholarly interests of the donor, documenting art in the Western European tradition from classical times onwards. Featuring in the exhibition will be a first edition of Giorgio Vasari’s Vite (Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects), the seminal source for information on Italian artists up to 1550; a number of prints after the seventeenth-century Italian artist, Guercino, as well as family memorabilia, letters and photographs. Also on display will be the cheque for Mahon’s first purchase in Paris in 1934, Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph by Guercino, now part of the Gallery’s collection, for which he paid £120.

Andrea Lydon, Head of Library and Archives in the National Gallery of Ireland, says: “Sir Denis Mahon’s remarkable gift of his personal library and archive will add significantly to the Gallery’s research facilities and is an important scholarly resource which will be built on and developed into the future. The material in this exhibition celebrates how donations such as these have transformed the NGI Library and Archives into a resource of international status.”

Sir Denis Mahon, who was of Irish descent, passed away in April of this year at the age of 100. He studied at Eton and Oxford before embarking on a life of collecting, writing and campaigning for the arts.

Raymond Keaveney, Director of the National Gallery of Ireland says: “The Gallery is delighted to have acquired such an important collection with such rich and varied holdings. Sir Denis was one of the most influential art historians and collectors of the twentieth century, as well as a close friend and generous benefactor of the Gallery. In presenting an exhibition of Sir Denis Mahon’s most recent gift alongside material from the Centre for the Study of Irish Art and Yeats Archive, the Gallery pays tribute to the generosity of individuals who have contributed to the development of our research collections and recognises the cultural and educational importance of libraries and archives in contributing to our knowledge of art and artists.” 

The exhibition also brings together material and art works from the Gallery’s Centre for the Study of Irish Art (CSIA) and Yeats Archive.

The CSIA research facility opened in the Millennium Wing in 2002 to support and promote the study of Irish art. Since its inception, it has developed into a valuable and substantial resource through the generous donation of material from scholars, historians and the descendants of Irish artists. On display, as part of the exhibition, will be the recently acquired collection of papers relating to Aloysius O’Kelly, as well as archives relating to Frederic William Burton, Walter Osborne, Augustus Burke and the sculptor, Andrew O’Connor.

The Yeats Archive was established following a generous donation in 1996 by the late Anne Yeats (d.2001) which includes 205 sketchbooks, over 400 books and a significant amount of personal papers belonging to her uncle, Jack B. Yeats (1871-1957).  The exhibition will showcase a number of pieces from this gift; stencil prints, watercolours and illustrated letters by Jack B. Yeats and his father, John B. Yeats; woodcuts and embroidery by Susan Mary (Lilly) Yeats and Elizabeth Corbet (Lolly) Yeats. It will also feature the Olympic medal awarded to Jack Yeats for his painting, The Liffey Swim (1923), now part of the Gallery’s collection.

The Gift of Knowledge: Enriching the Library and Archive Collections.
17 October to 15 December 2011. National Gallery of Ireland.
Admission free. 

An accompanying brochure to the exhibition will be available from the Print Gallery. See

Related links to the exhibition will go live on the NGI website on Monday 17 October.