National Gallery of Ireland launches new digital collections platform

Two researchers looking at a laptop with rare books lying on the table on cushions
Photo: Naoise CulhaneCredit

With over 20,000 records and images available online to the public, Source celebrates the personal stories of Irish artists.

The National Gallery of Ireland – together with Minister Catherine Martin T.D. – today launched Source, a new online resource providing access to digitised collections. Exploring the story of Irish art, the platform provides access to the collections held in the ESB Centre for the Study of Irish Art and Yeats Archive at the Gallery. Source has been in development since 2017, with the support of funding from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, and is free and accessible to all.

The Irish art archives at the National Gallery of Ireland are an important and rich body of material documenting the development and history of Irish art and artists. Celebrated artists such as Daniel MacliseFrederic William BurtonSarah Purser and Roderic O’Conor are represented in the collections. These historically and culturally important archives have now been catalogued, preserved and digitised to the highest standards and are available online for the first time for visitors to access, research and enjoy.

Moving beyond the online catalogue and traditional search interface, the platform also facilitates new ways of engaging with the collections through storytelling. Source presents a range of curated stories about, or inspired by, items from the collections. Authored by people with different interests in the field of Irish art history, Source stories interpret and offer new insights into these unique collections, highlighting events and relationships in the lives of people who contributed to the development of art in Ireland.

Some of the interesting stories which can be found on Source include:

  • A Letter to Pap: A letter from Irish artist Walter Osborne to his father William Osborne, written during a painting trip in the south of England, when Osborne was 25-years old. In this intensely personal letter to his ‘pap’, Osborne describes his experience; his relationship with the local people; and a painting he is currently working on. The letter gives a rare insight into the life of a celebrated artist at an early stage of his career.
  • The Serious Occupation of Painting: A letter from the influential artist and educator Dermod O'Brien to Betty Webb, a talented student who abandoned art after completing her studies. O’Brien, the head of the Royal Hibernian Academy art school, highlights Webb’s talent but concludes that she is ‘certain to abandon the serious occupation of painting for the mere frivolity of marriage: that is the sad penalty attached to most pretty girls’. Webb’s story was one common to many women who studied art and reveals the narrow expectations of the art establishment.
  • A Glorious Holiday: A 15-page letter from the artist Gerard Dillon to Madge Campbell. Written in two sittings, before and after Dillon’s visit to the Aran Islands in 1944, the letter spans diverse subjects from Dillon’s art practice to the effects of World War Two. It focuses primarily, however, on his interest in and experience of life on the Aran Islands, illustrated by 11 drawings scattered throughout the letter.

Featuring letters, sketchbooks, photographs, documents and publications, Source allows the public to step inside the lives of some of Ireland’s best known and most-loved artists, including William Orpen and Jack B. Yeats. Source provides access to 16,670 catalogue records relating to Irish art and over 6,000 associated digital images. This number will continue to grow as cataloguing and digitisation continues. Many of the images are available for reuse and can be downloaded for research and educational purposes.  

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin T.D. commented, “It is wonderful to see Source come to life following funding of €300,000 allocated by my Department to the National Gallery of Ireland in 2017 under the Cultural Digitisation Scheme. This funding has supported the development of systems and technical infrastructure required for digital collections management and discovery. Thousands of records are now accessible to every person in Ireland and this is a landmark moment in Irish art.”

Andrea Lydon, Head of Library & Archives at the National Gallery of Ireland, added, “We are delighted to be launching Source today which not only allows you to search the Gallery’s Irish art archives but also to explore stories from the collections. This important development will open up our collections to a much wider audience and will encourage and support research and engagement in Ireland’s visual heritage for years to come.”

To find out more and to explore Source, visit

Media contact:

Kate O’Leary, Communications, National Gallery of Ireland [email protected] / 087 334 1587 

Notes to Editor:

  • Images are available on request.
  • Members of the Gallery team are available for interview.

About the National Gallery of Ireland:

The National Gallery of Ireland is one of the country’s most popular visitor attractions housing the nation’s collection of European and Irish art from about 1300 to the present day, and an extensive Library & Archive. Entry to the collection is free for all to enjoy, learn and be inspired.

About the library and archive collections at the National Gallery of Ireland:

The Gallery's library and archive collections are a significant resource for anyone interested in researching art and its associated disciplines. These collections are held in the Art Library, the ESB Centre for the Study of Irish Art, the Yeats Archive, the Institutional Archive and the Sir Denis Mahon Library and Archive. Rich and varied, these resources relate to the national and international development of the visual arts from the middle ages onward and support the study of the development of Western European artistic tradition. These collections play a valuable role in supporting the work of the Gallery and are regularly consulted by artists, students, scholars and academics, art dealers and collectors and members of the public. The collections, as well as a number of online resources, are available for consultation and study and tours of the collections are available by request.

About the ESB Centre for the Study of Irish Art (ESB CSIA):

The ESB CSIA at the National Gallery of Ireland holds an important and valuable archive and library relating to the history of Irish art. The collections include artist's papers, sketchbooks, rare books, oral history recordings, publications and ephemera. The collections are freely accessible for public study and interpretation.

 About the Yeats Archive:

The Yeats archive consists of a prestigious collection of material donated to the Gallery by Anne Yeats in 1996 and several additional collections acquired since.  These collections relate to Jack B. Yeats and members of his extended family and include highlights such as the artist's sketchbooks which cover over fifty years of his career, books from Yeats’s own library, a collection of journals, theatre programmes, original manuscripts, photographs, postcards and letters, as well as general memorabilia. The Cuala and Dun Emer Presses are also represented. The collections are freely accessible for public study and interpretation.

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