Back in his home country, collectors consigning to the latest Irish art sales held in Dublin were enjoying good returns too, albeit on a more modest scale. The series was the latest in a buoyant run in which Irish art has bounced back from the doldrums of the country’s recession a decade ago.
During a sunny spell in Dublin between May 18-30, just over €2m (£1.75m) changed hands from 382 lots at salerooms Whyte’s and Adam’s (both 20% buyer’s premium), with high sell-through rates of 74% (Adam’s) and 80% (Whyte’s).
The results reinforced the general feeling permeating over the last 18 months that the market has thrown off the last of its shackles since the demise of the Celtic Tiger boom.
Ian Whyte, managing director at Whyte’s, said the results showed “a continuation of two years of good results since the end of the recession”. A shortage of top-quality material has also played a crucial role in pushing up prices, he said.
“As it is internationally, when really rare things come up they are fetching record prices in London and New York. Well, the same applies here, but of course the scale is a lot less. Collectors are recognising quality and are prepared to pay for it.”
James O’Halloran, managing director at Adam’s, was equally buoyant: “The level of interest in the quality lots confirms once again that blue-chip artists are continuing to do well.” He also noted a “great deal of interest and good competitive bidding for the contemporary and modern works”.
Offered in the €1.2m (£1.05m) sale at Whyte’s on May 18 was arguably one of the best Jack B Yeats (1871-1957) canvases to come onto the Irish art market in recent years. Morning Glory, a mid-sized 14 x 18in (36 x 46cm) oil on canvas from 1945, is part of a late series of works celebrating the arrival of dawn.
Displaying Yeats’ expert use of colour and brushwork, it depicts two travellers on a cobbled street in a deserted town, one with his face lifted in awe and delight to a stream of morning sunlight. Consigned with around 40 other works from a long-standing collection in Northern Ireland, it had not been on the market since it sold for around £6000 at Christie’s London in 1982.
Nearly 40 years of appreciation later and guided at €80,000- 120,000, it attracted five phones in the early stages before coming down to a two-way tussle between two bidders in the room. The triumphant buyer, a dealer bidding on behalf of a private client, secured it for €175,000 (£153,500) – the most expensive lot across both auctions.
In Adam’s €875,000 (£767,540) sale, its top-selling Yeats was a New York-themed painting from 1943, titled The Belle of Chinatown and painted on the same 14 x 18in (36 x 46cm) size canvas, with an identical estimate to Morning Glory. Being an American rather than Irish scene, and with a smaller figure in the composition, probably had some bearing on the outcome. It sold for a mid-estimate €108,000 (£94,736).
While canvas size often determines a rough value (Yeats worked in three or four standard sizes), composition is key for collectors. Attention will turn to Bonhams London on June 13, where a larger 3ft x 2ft (91 x 61cm) canvas by Yeats of an Irish scene in County Kildare, titled Donnelly’s Hollow, is guided at £300,000-500,000 – an estimate that has raised a few eyebrows.
The series was the latest in a buoyant run in which Irish art has bounced back from the doldrums of recession a decade ago
Henry sets sail at sale
Elsewhere, a sailing scene by Paul Henry (1876-1958) titled Killary Bay made its auction debut at Whyte’s, guided at €50,000-70,000.
The 14 x 16in (36 x 41cm) work is thought to have been painted between 1910-15, shortly after Henry settled on Achill Island, off Ireland’s west coast.
Consigned in its original condition from an Irish vendor living in the Netherlands whose father had bought it from the artist in the 1920s, the painting drew intense interest before it sold for double the top guide at €140,000 (£122,800). The buyer was an Irish collector living in England.
It was similar to another slightly larger but less compositionally striking sailing scene by Henry that sold at Surrey saleroom Ewbank’s for £62,000 in April.
A more traditional Henry at Whyte’s was a rather brooding scene of Antrim Bog, which had been offered on the market a few times over the last three decades. It didn’t fare quite so well and sold below the same guide at €46,000 (£40,350).
“I think it suffered a little bit because of its placement in the sale,” said Whyte. “We would normally have offered a painting like that second to the Killary Bay, as we tend to offer pictures by the level of demand we expect. But the owner requested it go up first because he wanted to bid on Killary Bay and needed to know if he had the money to go towards it. He did go on to buy it.”
A striking departure from Henry’s usual wild Irish landscapes came in the form of a set of early gouache-on-board drawings of fashionably attired Parisian ladies of the Belle Epoque era. Probably executed while Henry was a student at a Paris atelier in c.1898-99, the set appealed to the most devoted of the artist’s followers and tipped over top estimate to sell for €14,000 (£12,280).
The sweeping landscapes of Walter Frederick Osborne (1859-1903) provided the top-selling lot at Adam’s with a trademark rural entry, Counting the Flock.
The 13 x 15in (33 x 40cm) oil on board from c.1885-86 sold above its sensibly pitched €100,000-150,000 estimate for €165,000 (£144,740). This was slightly down on its previous saleroom appearance, when it sold at Christie’s London in 2003 for £170,000 hammer.
Bronze sculptural pieces showed plenty of promise during the latest sales. Rory Breslin’s (b.1963)Mask of the River Blackwater, from an edition of three, sold over estimate for €11,500 (£10,900) at Whyte’s, and JH Foley’s (1818-74) bronze of Oliver Goldsmith doubled its top estimate to sell for €10,000 (£8770) in the same rooms.
Meanwhile, at Adam’s another of Breslin’s water-themed bronze heads sold for a double-estimate €14,000 (£12,280).