Irish art auction fetches record €5.5m

Des O’Sullivan reports on stellar prices and previews upcoming sales

The stellar result achieved at the sale of the Ernie O’Malley Collection in Dublin last Monday — more or less all down to five good oils by Yeats which totalled more than €4m — is a welcome shot in the arm. One good collection and five major Yeats paintings gave Whyte’s and Christie’s the gong for the most expensive auction of Irish art ever sold in Ireland.

‘Reverie’, painted by Yeats in 1931, made €1.4m at hammer, ‘Evening in Spring’ made €1.3m, ‘The Enfolding Night’ made €520,000, ‘Death for Only One’ made €470,000 and ‘The Fighting Dawn’ made €320,000.

These are hammer prices to which commission at varying rates from 20%-25% plus VAT must be added.

‘The Land Eire’ by Mainie Jellett made €110,000 on the hammer over a top estimate of €40,000 and numerous works in this soldout 100-lot auction soared over their estimates. The auction grossed €5.5m.

Against this strong background there will be major evening winter sales in Dublin at Whyte’s on Monday and James Adam on Wednesday. Adams will offer two works by William Scott (1913-1989) purchased from his estate and never before on the market. ‘Still Life with Pan and Bowl’ is estimated at €200,000-€300,000 and ‘Red on Red’ has an estimate of €150,000-€200,000.

‘Still Life with Pan and Bowl’
‘Still Life with Pan and Bowl’

Dated 1967, this work featured in his retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1972 and is related to the abstract of the same year commissioned for RTÉ which sold for €218,798 at Sotheby’s in London last week.

In sharp contrast ‘Cottages by a Lake’ by Paul Henry, one of three paintings in this auction by an artist whose work achieves stellar results, is estimated at €80,000-€120,000.

There is a portrait of JP Dunleavy painted by Robert Ballagh to mark his 60th birthday and ‘The Irish Farm’ by Margaret Clarke is the original 1930 artwork for the Empire Marketing Board Free State Butter poster.

‘The Irish Farm’ by Margaret Clarke
‘The Irish Farm’ by Margaret Clarke

There are some artworks with low estimates of up to €600 by artists like Anita Shelbourne RHA, Imogen Stuart, Colin Middleton, Mainie Jellett, Rosamund Praeger, Ronald Ossory Dunlop and Elizabeth Rivers.

If the budget stretches to €1,000 and beyond the choice widens considerable. Which just goes to illustrate my oft- made point — over which latterly I have been getting some flak — that you do not need to have a budget of hundreds of thousands to enter the Irish art market.

Adam’s will offer works by artists like William Leech, Basil Blackshaw, Gerard Dillon, Dan O’Neill, George Campbell, Jack Yeats, John Lavery and Walter Osborne in this auction.

Whyte’s, which goes on view at the RDS today hot on the heels of the sale of the Ernie O’Malley collection last Monday, offers art by Yeats, le Brocquy, Dan O’Neill, William Orpen and Paul Henry alongside international artists such as Andy Warhol and a selection of 19 north American works from the collection of Anglo Irish Bank.

These are from its New York office and are being sold by the IBRC liquidator.

Why Anglo in its heyday did not avail of the opportunity to hang Irish art in its New York offices is yet another Irish banking mystery.

The 238 lots on offer at Whyte’s includes a joyous Bahamas canvas by Tony O’Malley titled ‘Air, Water, Light’ (€40,000-€60,000) which was purchased from the Bank of Ireland collection almost a decade ago.

A painting of Glencree, Co Wicklow, by Paul Henry is estimated at €60,000-€80,000.

Given what Whyte’sdescribes as an upsurge of interest in the work of Irish women artists, there should be plenty of bidders for a selection of paintings by Letitia Hamilton and one by her sister Eva.

A portrait of James Joyce by Louis le Brocquy is estimated at €18,000-€22,000 and a 1952 work by Maurice MacGonigal depicts the artist’s wife and family with dog at Errisberg, Co Mayo (€20,000-€30,000).

Lot 46, ‘Figures on a Staircase, York Street, Dublin’ by Patrick Hennessy was painted in 1942 when the street was the site of a terrace of grand Georgian houses that had become one of the worst tenements in Dublin.

‘Figures on a Staircase, York Street, Dublin’ by Patrick Hennessy
‘Figures on a Staircase, York Street, Dublin’ by Patrick Hennessy

They were pulled down in the 1960s to make way for modern social housing. In this work Hennessy documents some of the grimmest poverty to be found anywhere in the country with large families in single rooms, no sanitation and no privacy.

He depicts a woman reading a newspaper on the landing with another woman looking out nervously from her doorway at a time of war. The work is estimated at €8,000-€10,000.

The sale offers work by artists as diverse as Percy French, Sean Keating, Harry Kernoff, Basil Blackshaw, Stephen McKenna, Margaret Corcoran and John Shinnors.

There is sculpture by John Behan, Conor Fallon, Melanie le Brocquy, Rory Breslin and Niall O’Neill.

The Anglo collection was acquired mostly through artists agents and galleries. It offers mostly contemporary US artists at price guides ranging from €500 to €2,000.

Three works, in sets of nine, five and three, are more expensively estimated: ‘Glass Series’ 2004 by Kermit Berg (€4,000-€5,000); ‘Scene Studies’ 2000 by Carla Arocha (€3,000-€5,000); and ‘Seething City This is and We Experience’ by Gabart Farrar (€2,000-€3,000).

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