Antiques: Demand for rare and iconic works continues

Buyers, sellers and auctioneers are proving resilient, writes Des O'Sullivan

This two seater bergere is at Larry OKeeffe's auction in Clonmel tomorrow.
This two seater bergere is at Larry OKeeffe's auction in Clonmel tomorrow.

THE times they are a-changing. We don't know what the future will look like but the present, in terms of online auctions, is quite busy.

With each passing week of lockdown, and without ever leaving their own homes, Irish and international collectors and auction junkies have a growing array of online lots to choose from. Among online sales in Ireland in the coming week are furniture, collectibles and jewellery by Larry O'Keeffe in Clonmel tomorrow: online Irish art by Morgan O'Driscoll on Monday evening; online art by Herman and Wilkinson on Monday; Irish art by de Veres on Tuesday evening and online jewellery, silver and watches by Matthews of Oldcastle on Tuesday. A behind closed doors sale of British and Irish art by Bonhams in London takes place online on Tuesday.

Within the constraints of pandemic and social distancing buyers, sellers and auctioneers have proven adaptable and resilient. As the weeks roll on increased collector engagement has become apparent.

The 37 online auctions at Sotheby's since March have demonstrated continued demand and competition for rare and iconic works in all categories. More than $70 million has been brought in. This figure would have been much higher without a pandemic and the deferral of major art sales. Now the game of catch up has begun. Much of what has happened resulted from necessity. Sotheby's ceo Charles Steward remarked that "it also provides an important cornerstone for innovation going forward". Sotheby's plan to hold major sales of Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art in New York on the week beginning June 29. Both Christie's and Sotheby's are offering a big selection of online auctions right now.

There were some remarkable results at Fonsie Mealy's online collectors auction last Tuesday. The GAA medal collection of 1920's Galway dual star Leonard McGrath made €28,500 at hammer over a top estimate of €20,000.

The Leonard McGrath GAA medal collection made 28,500 at Fonsie Mealy's .
The Leonard McGrath GAA medal collection made 28,500 at Fonsie Mealy's .

Army Council IRA archives from troubled times nearly a century ago made €3,200. The programme for the first production of The Playboy at The Abbey in 1907 made €220. The programme for the 1931 All Ireland Hurling Final in which Cork beat Kilkenny on a replay made €1,600 over a top estimate of €700 and Battle Cries, Terence MacSwiney's poetry, made €150.

Larry O'Keeffe will offer 200 lots in a timed online auction which runs to 3pm tomorrow; Herman and Wilkinson in Dublin have an online timed fine art sale running until 1pm on Monday; Morgan O'Driscoll's online art sale with 197 lots gets underway at 6.30pm on Monday; the Matthews sale on Tuesday offers 476 lots of jewellery, watches, antique silver and Russian objets d'art and there is a broad selection at the de Veres art sale.

The online formats of all these sales vary but they are easy to follow. The Bonhams sale on Tuesday, with Irish art by Graham Knuttel, Cecil Maguire and William Crozier, is fairly typical with an auctioneer at the rostrum, an empty room and remote bidding online or by absentee bid.

This is an adjustment from what used to be the norm, but it seems to be working.

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