Four sales of important Irish art over the past two weeks — at Adam’s, Whyte’s, de Vere’s and by Morgan O’Driscoll, reveal an undiminished interest in Irish art in a market where buyers want value for money.
People are not paying silly prices for Irish art. That is the stuff of booms. But any fresh-to-market work of quality is attracting numbers of bidders. The bankers — Osborne, Yeats, Paul Henry, Lavery — have proved their resilience. The most expensive painting in the latest spate of art auctions in Ireland was Walter Osborne’s The Ferry which sold for €495,000 at de Vere’s. This was the most important large landscape of Osborne’s early work and it was always going to do well.
The key here is that this is a picture of quality. The best works by Yeats are all now in private hands and are rarely seen on the market. Nevertheless, a 1952 Yeats was the top lot at Adam’s when it sold for €115,000 and a small oil on board by Yeats headed Morgan O’Driscoll’s Dublin auction this month when it made €27,500. Paul Henry was the lead at Whyte’s when The Lake made €93,000. Last month Orpen’s portrait of Lady Idina Wallace sold for £962,500 (€1,148,000) at Sotheby’s in London. Earlier this year Enter Yellow by Sean Scully sold for £409,250 at Sotheby’s.
What is of more significance to the general collector is that the market for artists whose names are, perhaps, less stellar is on the up. So it was particularly encouraging to see a work by contemporary artist John Shinnors entitled Rooks Go West making a respectable €37,000 at hammer at Adam’s. At the same sale a 1979 work by Tony O’Malley sold for €27,000 over a top estimate of €20,000. There was also a bidding battle for a work by Estella Solomons with a top estimate of €15,000 which sold for €23,000. Gerard Dillon, Harry Kernoff; William Conor; Dan O’Neill and Nathanial Hone all sold well.
There was some disappointment when Daniel MacLise’s A Figure of Erin failed to find a buyer but this is a market where no one gets it all their own way. Nonetheless the market overall is healthier in 2013 than it was in 2012.