BANK of Ireland is tostart selling its art collection after Standard & Poor’s estimated that the Government-backed recapitalising of the banking system may cost as much as €50 billion.
The collection, begun in the 1970s primarily to support emerging Irish artists, has about 2,000 works including Paul Henry, Louis le Brocquy and Robert Ballagh.
It is expected to raise more than €4 million in funds for charity over the next five years, Audrey Nolan, the bank’s head of corporate social responsibility, said.
The sale by the country’s biggest lender by market value, which said on August 11 its first-half profit fell 66%, may be followed by some of its rivals, which also have art collections and made losses in the first half.
Bad debts also surged at Allied Irish Banks and Anglo Irish Bank after a decade-long real-estate boom collapsed during the credit crisis.
Proceeds from future sales will be added to the company’s existing community and charitable investment programme, the Bank of Ireland said in an emailed statement.
In recent years, a number of higher-value works, including paintings by Jack B Yeats, have been donated to the Irish Museum of Modern Art in lieu of corporation tax, Ms Nolan said.
The most valuable works in the Bank of Ireland collection would currently be estimated at about €100,000 each, said James O’Halloran, managing director of the Dublin-based auctioneers James Adam & Sons Ltd, who last month wasappointed sole adviser to the Bank of Ireland on the dispersal.
“We’re going to suggest auction to be the best way to sell most of the best pieces,” Mr O’Halloran said in an interview.
Postwar paintings by Yeats and le Brocquy sold for £1.1 million (€1.32m) and £1.2 million respectively in 2001 and 2000.
Dealers are awaiting news on the artworks belonging to Allied Irish Banks and the nationalised Anglo Irish Bank.
“It’s well known thatAllied has the best collection,” said Mr O’Halloran. “It’s much broader in scope.”
The bank’s art purchases in recent decades include works by contemporary Irish artists with international reputations such as Sean Scully and William Scott, as well as paintings by Yeats and tapestries by le Brocquy, dealers said.
Anglo Irish has a more modest corporate collection of works, mainly by Irish contemporary artists, said dealers.
“Any decisions about the future of the collection have to be made by the board with respect to the finance minister,” said spokeswoman Martha Kavanagh.
Dublin art dealer Milmo-Penny said: ‘‘If all these works come on the market, I don’t know who’s going buy them, Most of the people who had the space to put a bank-sized painting on the wall have gone bankrupt.”
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