Significant winter auctions of Irish art are under way

Des O’Sullivan previews major sales of classic and modern art in London and Dublin.

Significant winter auctions of Irish art are now underway, and one of the most important is at Sotheby’s in London next Wednesday when 100 lots from the Brian P Burns collection comes under the hammer.

The Lonely Sea by Jack B. Yeats from the Brian P. Burns collection at Sotheby’s.

Internationally promoted, this sale spans Irish artists from the 18th century to the present day, and includes works by Yeats, O’Conor, Lavery, Orpen, Osborne, Leech, Nathaniel Hone, James Brenan, and Rowan Gillespie.

Now aged over 80, Brian Burns, whose grandfather emigrated to Boston from Sneem in Co Kerry in 1892, made a bet with himself 40 years ago that the Irish people who could write so brilliantly and compose so lyrically must also have painted. 

He made it his personal mission to inform the American Irish diaspora about the beauty Irish art has bequeathed to the world.

Sotheby’s describes the collection he formed over a lifetime as one of the greatest collections of Irish art in private hands. 

‘The Settlers’, a piece by Rowan Gillespie from the Burns collection at Sotheby’s

He has generously loaned his collection to exhibitions in America and Ireland and created new audiences for and awareness of Irish art.

Closer to home, the Irish art auction at the Royal College of Physicians, Kildare Street, Dublin, on Tuesday at 6pm is now on view at de Veres on Kildare Street. 

The catalogue cover lot is Breton Girl Reading by Roderic O’Conor whose recently- concluded exhibition at the National Gallery was a huge success. 

Other heavyweight artists include William Orpen, Paul Henry and Jack B Yeats. Orpen’s contribution is a portrait of World War I fighter pilot and hero John Letts. 

‘Breton Girl Reading’ by Roderic O’Conor at de Veres next Tuesday (€50,000-€70,000).

There is A View of Achill by Paul Henry and two works by Yeats, Racing on the Strand from 1912, and The Public Letter Writer from 1904, depicting a character who wrote letters home from the US from Irish emigrants unable to write.

International art from the collection of Sean and Rosemarie Mulcahy features work by Miguel Barcelo and Georg Baselitz. 

There are two tapestries by le Brocquy, and work by contemporary artists including Tony O’Malley, John Shinnors, William Scott, and William Crozier.

Important Irish art sales at Whyte’s and Adams will take place in coming weeks.


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