Henry Vaughan was born in Southwark, London in 1809. His father, a wealthy hat manufacturer, died in 1828 leaving his son a great fortune. Henry became a cultivated collector of art, gradually building up a magnificent collection. He patronised living artists and was described by Ruskin as 'a great Turner man'. When he died unmarried in 1899 aged 90, his art collection was distributed among the major public museums. The bulk of his outstanding group of Turner watercolours was divided between the National Gallery of Scotland (38) and the National Gallery of Ireland (31).
The Vaughan Bequest of Turner watercolours were bequeathed to the National Gallery of Ireland in 1900. Then Director of the Gallery, Walter Armstrong paid tribute to Henry Vaughan in his book on Turner (1902). He wrote:
"In making his collection he (Vaughan) took the greatest care to confine himself to drawings in which he could see no fading. Once his, they were religiously protected from the sun … so far did he carry his solicitude, that in his will he stipulated that the collections left to the National Galleries of Scotland and Ireland should be publicly exhibited for only one month in each year, and that month January, perhaps the most sunless of the whole twelve."
Armstrong goes on ominously: 'a century hence Turner as a colourist will only survive in things which once formed part of the Vaughan collection, unless those drawings which are still uninjured are put out of reach while there is still time'.
The Vaughan Bequest in the National Gallery constitutes 31 watercolours, and the Gallery has added to the collection over the years. Today, the collection comprises a total of 36 exquisite watercolours by Turner, which remain in pristine condition. The National Gallery of Ireland continues to adhere to the conditions of the Vaughan bequest, and so every January the Gallery puts on display these luminous watercolours which continue to be a major attraction in the Gallery's exhibition calendar.