Jack B Yeats painting owned by David Bowie to be auctioned

‘Sleep Sound’ oil-on-canvas valued at up to £180,000 to be sold by Sotheby’s in November

An important painting by Jack B Yeats has come to light in the private collection of the late British pop star David Bowie.

Sleep Sound, an oil-on-canvas measuring 18x24 inches, has been valued at up to £180,000 (€208,000) and is to be sold at auction by Sotheby's in London in November.

Bowie, who died of cancer in January at the age 69, was a well-known art collector – mainly of Modern and contemporary British and American art. His ownership of the Yeats painting was not known and is likely to surprise the Irish art market.

Sleep Sound has not been seen in public since it surfaced briefly in 1993, when it was bought anonymously by Bowie at Sotheby's for £45,500.


The painting was made in 1955 – two years before the artist died. It depicts, according to catalogue notes, “two figures lying on a moor beneath a heavy sky” and “the composition as a whole borders on the abstract, with sky, land and figures merging into one and stimulating the eye to dart across the surface”.

‘Independent spirit’

Sotheby’s said the defining characteristic of Jack B Yeats’s artistic career was “its independent spirit” and “that David Bowie should therefore be drawn to the work of Yeats is unsurprising, he was a great admirer of his work and knew it well.

“In Yeats he found a pioneering and explorative artist that reflected his own creative impulses.”

The painting was originally owned by an American private art collector, Eleanor de Bretteville Reid.

She had discovered the work of Yeats by chance, when she saw, and bought, one of his paintings in an antiques shop in San Francisco in 1949.

She then began a long transatlantic correspondence with the artist and began to avidly collect his work. She bought Sleep Sound from the Waddington Gallery in London in the 1950s and is believed to have paid about £600.

Most of Bowie’s collection features the work of British artists including Damien Hirst, Frank Auerbach and Henry Moore and is expected to sell for £10 million although Bowie’s many admirers may cause bidding to exceed expectations.

Dublin show

Sotheby’s said that, while “his family are keeping certain pieces of particular significance” most of the collection, has been consigned to auction.

Bowie was survived by his wife Iman, their daughter Lexi, and a son, Duncan Jones (formerly Zowie Bowie) from a previous marriage.

Sotheby’s said Bowie’s Yeats painting – and some others from his collection – would be exhibited in Ireland for four days from September 1st at the RHA Gallery, Dublin.

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about fine art and antiques