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The collection was sold by a descendant of the artist who lives in England and comprises some 200 of the artist’s illustrated letters and 200 manuscript letters to his wife Grace Orpen. It also features finished sketches and drawings, sketchbooks, photographs and other memorabilia.

The works date from between c.1899-1928, ranging from the artist’s student years through to later life.

Director of the National Gallery of Ireland Sean Rainbird said: “We are delighted to add this collection of material by Orpen to the Gallery’s already extensive William Orpen archive. The material is one of unique aesthetic and research value and will support and contribute to new and future research associated with one of Ireland’s most important and influential artists.”

William Orpen drawing

Another of the illustrated letters by William Orpen that has been acquired by the National Gallery of Ireland. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland

Much of the collection has never been published although it had been previously loaned to the Tate in London. According to the Irish Times, the Tate had been keen to acquire the archive but the British government decided not to block its export.

The article reports that the price paid was a substantial six-figure sum but that the amount paid was substantially less than its retail value thanks to the generosity of the seller. Ian Whyte also said that the auction house reduced its commission by 75% as a donation towards NGI’s acquisition.