Amongst the leading Irish intellectuals who corresponded with Albert Bender were Walter Starkie of the Abbey Theatre and Trinity College, the writers Oliver St. John Gogarty, George Russell (who used the pseudonym Æ), Ella Young and Kathleen O’Brennan, as well as the entire Yeats family – William, Jack and Elizabeth.
However, it is in the letters of Kathleen O’Brennan and Ella Young where the greatest insights into his reasons behind the donations of Asian art to the National Museum can be found.
A passion for book collecting
His relationships with some of Ireland’s leading writers initially developed from his passion for book collecting. As a result of these contacts Albert Bender was kept well informed of contemporary developments in Ireland, such as the Civil War and the emerging independent State, all of which would have encouraged him in his idea of donating to the land of his birth.
Bender and Albert Russell
Albert Bender corresponded with several important figures of Ireland’s Celtic Revival (the early twentieth century literary and artistic renaissance). One of them was the poet, editor, dramatist and painter George Russell (Æ). Æ had spent some time in Albert Bender’s San Francisco home while he was in the United States. Æ and Walter Starkie of the Abbey Theatre were key in encouraging Albert Bender’s initial donations to the National Museum of Ireland.
Bender and Jack B. Yeats
Albert Bender also wrote and received letters from the artist Jack B. Yeats. Unlike his friendship with Æ, Bender and Yeats never actually met, but corresponded with each other from 1934. In August of that year Jack Yeats presented Albert Bender with one of his sketchbooks from his first visit to the Aran Islands in 1899.
This is a significant sketchbook in the artist’s development regarding his contemporary illustrations and later work for articles by J.M. Synge in 1905 for the Manchester Guardian on life in the West of Ireland.
Download a special article about the sketchbook, originally published in the Irish Arts Review:
Yeats and Bender: A Time of Gifts (0.44 MB, Adobe PDF)
Bender's correspondence with Irish artists are addressed in a flipbook in the main gallery of the Albert Bender exhibition.