Le Brocquy art fails to find buyers as Irish lots slump at Sotheby’s

The boom buyers have vanished and lovers of more expensive Irish art can no longer afford it.

Less than 15 hours after Francis Bacon’s Figure Writing Reflected in a Mirror made $44.8m (€34.6m) at Sotheby’s in New York, half of the Irish lots on offer failed to find buyers at Sotheby’s in London yesterday.

William Orpen’s scorching swagger portrait of Rosie, Fourth Marchioness of Headfort sold for £577,250 (€717,116). It was the top lot in what used to be Sotheby’s annual Irish art sale, re-designated this year as an auction of British and Irish art.

London dealer Guy Morrison bought the Orpen, which had an estimate of £300,000-£500,000, for an undisclosed client.

A Connaught Fishing Village — the most expensively estimated of four Paul Henry works at £120,000 to £180,000 — sold for £145,250. Two other Henry landscapes each made £115,250 and one failed to sell.

This was the first test of the market for Louis le Brocquy — the only Irish artist to break the £1m-pound barrier in his lifetime — since his death last month. The two works on offer — Travelling People and Masked Head — failed to find buyers.

Estimated relatively modestly at £60,000 to £80,000 and £30,000 to £50,000, the paintings aroused considerable interest when the sale was on view in Ireland.

A Pont-Aven landscape by the Irish Impressionist Roderic O’Conor made £151,250 but other works by the artist, a still life estimated at £50,000-£80,000 and a reclining nude valued at £40,000-£60,000, did not sell.

Augustus John’s Portrait of WB Yeats sold for £51,650, which was above the top estimate of £50,000. The Princess and the Circus by Jack Yeats sold for £61,250 and an album of character studies by Yeats made £20,000 over an estimate of £10,000-£15,000.

Two landscapes by James Arthur O’Connor, A View of Fin Lough and Delphi Lodge and A Mountain Road in Mayo sold for £36,050 and £22,500.

John Lavery, like Yeats and Orpen, is always a stalwart who can be relied upon to perform. His Kenmare River, Evening made £42,050 against an estimate of £30,000 to £50,000.

Yet an auction where works by Yeats, Henry, Orpen, and O’Conor remain unsold is as strong an indication as can be that Irish art is struggling.

This is worrying because Sotheby’s has in the past attracted clientele scattered around the globe, many from the Irish Diaspora.


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