How George Bernard Shaw bought art masterpieces for Ireland from beyond the grave

Playwright, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925, left a third of posthumous royalties to National Gallery
How George Bernard Shaw bought art masterpieces for Ireland from beyond the grave

Portrait of George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) by John Collier. Picture: National Gallery of Ireland

When playwright George Bernard Shaw left one-third of his posthumous royalties to the National Gallery no one could have guessed that it would amount to one of the largest-ever gifts to the arts in Ireland. With the production of My Fair Lady based on his play Pygmalion, a Broadway success in 1956 and a popular film in 1964, these royalties hugely increased. 

The Gallery received its first Shaw bequest royalties in 1957 of £10,000 and by the end of 1959 over €240,000 had been received. The first purchases were made in 1959. The Shaw bequest, which ends this year, has enabled the acquisition of masterpieces such as The Terrace, Saint-Tropez by Paul Signac; Landscape with Flight of Stairs by Chaïm Soutine; Venice, Queen of the Adriatic by Domenico Tintoretto; Julie Bonaparte as Queen of Spain by Baron François Gérard; El Sueño by Francisco de Goya; and An Interior with Members of a Family, attributed to Strickland Lowry.

 Shaw, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925, spent many hours in the gallery as a child and called it the place to which he owed “much of the only real education I ever got as a boy in Eire”. A special display entitled "Shaw and the Gallery: A Priceless Education" has just opened at the National Gallery of Ireland and runs to April 4, 2021. 

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