Welcome to the virtual viewing room

Des O'Sullivan reports on an auction world that not so long ago was beyond our imaginings

Auction vignettes by Christie's.
Auction vignettes by Christie's.

THE onward march of the virtual world in this new era of online auctions, pent-up demand and postponed sales cannot be overstated.

Some of the rapid adjustments made in this time of pandemic are temporary, others will prove to be far more permanent.

Just a few short months ago at the beginning of the year the idea of conducting a sale with no option to view physically would have been beyond the imaginings of many.

Now they are not only commonplace, but working. At a time when traditional viewing is out of the question auctioneers are finding new and imaginative ways to sell.

Take Christie’s, currently running a sale called The Collector online until June 1. This 264-lot auction, with estimates from £200 to £35,000, is focused on bringing craft and design us in lockdown.

To promote the auction of English and European furniture, silver, ceramics, gold boxes and works of art from the 17th to the 19th century, Christie’s has created a series of virtual viewing rooms filled with the lots on offer.

These virtual vignettes are designed to inspire the inner interior decorator unleashed by all this enforced time at home.

Head of sale Paul Gallois commented: “During this unprecedented period in our lives, whilst a great many are spending more time than ever at home, interiors have become a major focus of comfort, familiarity and aesthetic expression.”

Skibbereen-based Morgan O’Driscoll, who has always been innovative and turns over more art than any other auctioneer in the country in terms of numbers of lots, has for some time now been offering a virtual viewing on his website.

Just by pointing the phone at a catalogue lot a registered buyer can see how a particular work of art would look on a wall in their own home.

At his regular online sale this week many lots sold for above estimate including a rare west Cork landscape by Sir William Orpen titled A Storm, Kealkil (1901) which made €15,000 at hammer.

Orpen is better known for his portraits, figurative works and interiors.

'A Storm, Kealkil' (1901) by Sir William Orpen (1878-1931) made €15,000 at hammer at Morgan O'Driscoll's online Irish art sale on Monday.
'A Storm, Kealkil' (1901) by Sir William Orpen (1878-1931) made €15,000 at hammer at Morgan O'Driscoll's online Irish art sale on Monday.

Four works by the artist Cecil Maguire (1930-2020), who sadly died last week, sold for prices from €2,000 TO €7,500. Another work by Cecil Maguire, Salt Lake, Clifden sold for a hammer price of £2,000 at Bonhams online sale of modern British and Irish art on Tuesday.

Castlecomer-based Fonsie Mealy who took the plunge with an online-only sale last week is planning another sale for the end of June. The collector sale last week realised €120,000 on the hammer with 85% of lots sold.

Whyte’s is inviting entries for an Irish and International art sale in Dublin on July 6 and Important Irish Art on September 28. From next Monday Whyte’s will be available for valuations by appointment only at Molesworth Street.

Adam’s has re-scheduled a number of postponed sales to July and September with an Important Irish Art sale now due to take place on September 9. A

dam’s Mid Century Modern auction on July 28 will be held as a live sale with telephone, commission and internet bidding but no bidding in the room. It is what the future looks like now.

Prior to pandemic, many salerooms offered online options alongside traditional patterns.

This suited buyers chasing just one or two particular lots who were enabled to view their object of desire in the showroom, then bid online.

Even as it drew some criticism from auctioneers who bemoaned the lack of atmosphere this system was noted to work well and boost turnover.

In their worst nightmares, auctioneers never imagined the death of the saleroom. We all fervently hope it will not come to that.

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