Irish art turnover is up but market remains problematic

Despite brisk bidding, Des O’Sullivan hears auctioneers are finding it difficult to source top quality works.

Irish art turnover is up but market remains problematic

The big winter Irish art sales — by de Vere’s, Whyte’s, Morgan O’Driscoll and James Adam — grossed almost five million euro. This figure suggests that our art market is in a state of rude good health, but the real story is more complex.

Bidding is brisk, turnover is up and the market has its problems. All auctioneers are finding it difficult to source top quality works. “What incentive is there to sell when you can get no interest on your money” one asked.


Right now this remains very much a buyer’s market. Prices are deflated and a correction upwards is long overdue. The view is that this has to happen, the only question is when. Meantime, prices are far from stratospheric across all levels and ranges.

Today’s art buyer has become discriminating and picky and there is a price above which they will not venture. The sort of madness that was seen in the market in 2006-2008 prior to the crash, will probably never be seen again.

The market in 2016 was unpredictable and threw up some surprising results. Adam’s failed to get their main Yeats away last week, but still grossed €1.35m with 76% of lots on offer finding buyers.

Morgan O’Driscoll capped off what he described as an unbelievable year with a Dublin sale that drew bidders from 12 countries and grossed over a million this month.

The September sale at Whyte’s was the most successful since 2008 and a small west of Ireland landscape by Paul Henry made a hammer price of €87,000 at their latest sale.

A large pastel by Sean Scully sold for €165,000 at the late November auction by de Vere’s, which grossed around €1.6m.

Sean Keating’s Aran Woman and her Children sold for €130,000 at hammer at Mealy’s last week and this was the first time since 2008 that a Keating sold for a six-figure sum.

Sell-through rates of around 75%-80% are being reported from most sales.

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