Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Less widely known are the efforts of Irish ateliers to bring art to the masses at the turn of the last century, and collectors were provided with an uncommon opportunity to improve their knowledge when this carpet turned up at Cranbrook Auction Rooms (10 percent buyer's premium) in Kent on March 4.

Set into the deep red ground and the beige and green borders, the Irish cross motif and Celtic designs immediately gave it away as Irish, although this textile was rarer than the lime green and pastel pink confections from County Donegal, even if not quite so opulent as the canvas knotted carpets from County Laiose which furnished the first class state-rooms aboard the ill-fated Titanic.

The carpet had been produced by the Dun Emer Guild, set up in the Autumn of 1902 at Dundrum, County Dublin by Lily and Elizabeth Yeats (sisters of poet William) with the express purpose of promoting Irish nationalism by using art to exhume the runes of a culture which existed long before English colonialism. The weaver responsible for this particular carpet was probably Evelyn Gleeson, who had studied with the Scottish Arts and Crafts designer Alexander Millar during the 1880s, and submitted carpet designs to Scottish textile firm Templeton's.

The sisters used the Guild as a spring board to setting up the Cuala Press, a family concern which published the poems of William and the illustrations of Jack. Four broadsheets of Irish folk sonnets with drawings by Jack Butler Yeats were consigned along with the carpet by an Irish aristocratic family, but it was the carpet which was the greater focus of attention. Measuring 8ft by 3ft (2.44m x 91cm) and entered in good uncut condition, the carpet was underbid by the Irish trade before selling to an English collector at £10,000.