In the Republic of Ireland, a new lockdown began on October 21 which is due to run for six weeks (with a review after four). For auction houses, as well as shops and galleries, this means their premises must close their premises to the public, although online trading is permitted.
In terms of the pre-lockdown sales, some notable competition came at Whyte’s (20% buyer’s premium) latest Irish & International Art sale. Managing director and auctioneer Ian Whyte said that despite the current general economic uncertainly there was a “current surge in the Irish market”.
He pointed out that negative interest rates were turning wealthier clients towards alternative investments and €15bn has now been built up in small private savings accounts in Ireland as less wealthy clients are no longer spending much on travel, clothes and commuting.
At the auction on October 19, the day’s top lot in particular provided evidence of robust demand at the top end of the market at least.
Paul Henry’s (1876-1958) A sunny day, Connemara, c.1940, was described by Whyte as “the best Henry I have ever handled”.
“I first saw it 20 years ago in a private collection in Northern Ireland,” he said, “and I had hoped the owner would part with it every time I visited him since I saw it first. He finally succumbed after two decades of gentle persuasion.”
Works by Henry come up regularly at auction but this picture was commercially almost in a category of its own. Although not the largest work by the artist, the 16 x 20in (41 x 51cm) signed oil on canvas was a well-known picture which the he painted for the cover of his autobiography, published in 1951.
A prime-period landscape of Achill Island, it also featured on the covers of Brian Kennedy’s biography of Henry as well as a National Gallery of Ireland catalogue exhibition.
While the artist has long faced criticism for appearing to produce a large number of works, somewhat repetitive in terms of style and subject matter, supporters point to what writer and critic Sean Ó Faoláin described as Henry’s talent to catch “light caught in a flux, a moment’s dazzling miracle”, making him “the least static painter I know”. This work was picked out for displaying these qualities.
Followers also admired its fresh atmosphere, pristine colours and the way the artist had mentally formulated the composition before setting it down on the canvas with no overpainting or re-working.
A number of collectors viewed the €150,000-200,000 estimate as quite reasonable even though works by the artist have only reached this level four times in the last five years at auction (source: Artprice by ArtMarket). On the day, it was eventually knocked down at €420,000 (£381,820) to an Irish collector resident in the UK. According to The Irish Times, the buyer was bidding on the phone and, although many photographs had been sent out prior to the sale, had never actually viewed the painting in the flesh.
The price represented an auction record for Henry, overshooting the €400,000 (£353,980) for The Potato Diggers sold at Adam’s in 2013, and the £265,000 The Lobster Fisher made at Christie’s in 2002.
Arthur Maderson record
Another Irish landscape in demand, this time equalling the artist’s record, was a more recent painting but, again, a prime example of its type.
Works by Arthur K Maderson (b.1942) appear fairly often at auction, mostly landscapes painted in the artist’s trademark Impressionistic style.
The 3ft 9in square (1.14m) signed oil on board from 1991 was a vintage example that, despite lacking figures that often appear in his works, was admired for its tonal quality and placid subject.
The location depicted also appears to have helped it commercially: the River Blackwater in County Waterford, which is a prize spot for salmon fishing.
The painting drew strong competition against a €3000-5000 pitch and was eventually knocked down at €21,000 (£19,090) to a collector in Co Kerry. The price equalled the sum fetched by Sunday Afternoon, Lismore River Pool sold at Adam’s in April 2008.
Overall the Whyte’s sale raised €1.6m (£1.45m) with 119 of the 131 lots sold (91%).
£1 = €1.10