State of the Arts 11 : Upcoming Important May Irish Art Auctions

'Discovery, 1952' - Jack Butler Yeats RHA (1871-1957) at Whyte's Auction House

After the record-breaking post-pandemic splurge, 2023 was a period of consolidation in the Irish art market, with solid prices for good quality work and a high volume of sales, but few records broken.

Leaving Sean Scully aside, the best prices achieved were £550,000 for Large Troubadour, a sculpture by Barry Flanagan, and €290,000 for Glory Be to the Brave Singer by Jack B Yeats. Amongst contemporary artists, Genieve Figgis did best with €150,000 for Portal.


How 2024 is faring will become clearer after a number of high-quality auctions take place in late May. These include Adam’s (Important Irish Art – May 29), de Veres (Outstanding Irish Art and Sculpture – May 28), Morgan O’Driscoll (Irish Art Online auction – May 20) and Whyte’s (Important Irish Art – May 27). Major works by John Lavery, William Scott, Paul Henry, Walter Osborne, Mary Swanzy, William Orpen and Jack B Yeats are included. Amongst contemporary artists there are outstanding works by John Shinnors, Genieve Figgis and Donald Teskey. Sculpture is particularly well represented at de Veres with works by Edward Delaney, Gerda Fromel, John Behan and even an opportunity to own a small Henry Moore (Animal is guiding at €10/15,000).

Detail Edith, Gypsy Girl (Sketch ‘Bear Woman’) by Sir William Orpen. Est. €100/150,000.

Also featuring at de Veres an intriguing work by William Orpen, Edith, Gypsy Girl (Sketch ‘Bear Woman’). The woman depicted is far removed from the formal portraits that formed much of Orpen’s output. She regards the viewer with a look not far removed from belligerence. The Bear Woman of the title refers to her dancing bear which Orpen would have seen when he invited Edith and her partner George to visit him in his studio at the Metropolitan School of Art in 1909. It was not uncommon at that time for Hungarian and Romanian gypsies to travel around Ireland and make money from performing bears. Orpen did another work entitled Edith, George and Bear that featured the actual bear. This unusual Orpen is guiding at €100/150,000.

Detail Early Morning in the
Markets, Quimperlé (1883) by
Walter Frederick Osborne.
Est. €120/160,000.

The town of Quimperlé in Brittany features in many of Walter Osborne’s paintings, including his well-known Apple Gathering, Quimperlé at the National Gallery of Ireland. Adam’s sale features another depiction of working-class life from that source: Early Morning in the Markets, Quimperlé (1883). The painting has an impeccable provenance, being a gift from Osborne himself to the grandmother of the current owner. The market of the title is depicted with Osborne’s usual unromantic honesty. The long-suffering old lady in the foreground suggests stoicism in the face of a hard life. It is guiding at €120/160,000.

Also at Adam’s, but more modestly priced, is a charming early Jack B Yeats watercolour, The Squireen. The pretensions of the nouveau riche was a subject Yeats poked fun at more than once and a print by Yeats with the same title shows an ostentatiously overdressed middle-aged man. In the Adam’s watercolour, we see a young man in a loud blue jacket riding a horse that seems a tad small for him. The character looks about for notice as if to say: “What a fine fellow I am”. Amongst the contemporary art on sale, the star of the show is an outstanding work by John Shinnors, Swallows Over the Lighthouse II. This shows the Limerick artist playing with two of his favourite motifs, swallows and lighthouses.


Whyte’s Important Irish Art – May 27

Miss Alice Fulton at Paisley Lawn Tennis Club by Sir John Lavery. Est. €60/80,000

While Walter Osborne was depicting the hard scrabble life of the working classes, a near contemporary of his, Sir John Lavery, was depicting society belles and the leisured classes at play. Miss Alice Fulton at Paisley Lawn Tennis Club, guiding at €60/80,000 at Whyte’s, was inspired by a return visit to Paisley in Scotland, where Lavery had staged his first solo exhibition in 1886 and made many friends. The Fulton family were one of the area’s biggest employers and became early supporters of the artist. This was a swiftly executed painting done on the spot. Lavery returned many times over the years to paint more formal portraits of Alice Fulton and her family.

Mary Swanzy is an artist whose reputation has grown in recent years, culminating in a well-received retrospective Mary Swanzy: Voyages at IMMA in 2018. Her many years lived outside Ireland after independence could be attributed to her cousin Oswald Swanzy’s involvement in the murder of Thomas McCurtain. The IRA caught up with him not long afterwards, but no doubt the family feared further retaliation in the new state. Her work, In the Window, with its cubist elements, shows evidence of her time spent in Paris in the early part of the century, where she was friendly with Gertrude Stein, attended her salons and rubbed shoulders with the as-yet-uncelebrated Picasso. There she would have seen a seminal work in the history of cubism: Picasso’s Horta de Ebro, which Stein had bought. In the Window, a gorgeous example of Swanzy at her very best, is guiding at €60/80,000.

The female form was an abiding concern of the sculptor F E McWilliam and he explored it in a variety of media including wood, bronze and stone. Matriarch, a bronze, is over 6ft tall and was included in the inaugural exhibition at the F E McWilliam Gallery in Banbridge. The elongated, other-worldly figure shows his surrealist side. It’s guiding at €80/100,000. Donald Teskey has two contrasting works on offer at Whyte’s: Cumberland Street South (€30/40,000) depicts a run-down urban side street, while Evening Shoreline (€25/30,000) revisits his beloved West of Ireland.

See for more.


Morgan O’Driscoll Irish Art Online Auction – May 20

Detail Summer’s Day, River Lagan by John Luke. Est. €8/12,000.

Over at Morgan O’Driscoll’s, the earliest of the May auctions, there are a couple of interesting pieces by the Northern Irish artist John Luke – a still life and a landscape. Luke is best known for his delicate, egg tempera paintings of pastel-coloured landscapes with an Arcadian feel. Summer’s Day, River Lagan (guiding at €8/12,000) was completed in the early 1930s. It features the old canal between Belfast and Lisburn, which is an estuary of the river Lagan.

Luke was born in a working-class part of north Belfast in 1906 and spent his early years working in the city’s linen mills and shipyards. This 18th-century canal was closed for commercial use by the time he painted it. The factory buildings and worker’s cottages portrayed in the distance are a record of an industrial life that was in terminal decline – a life he had experienced at first hand.

Also looking back at the past is Hughie O’Donoghue with Alive Again. Much of his work is autobiographical and this painting is based on a photograph taken in 1920 – that shows a young man in a rural background. The brownish pigment overlaying the photographic image suggests the emergence of the figure from a fraught past.

The title invites speculation. Perhaps he is a family member who returned intact from the carnage of the First World War. It’s guiding at €5/7,000.

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Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers Chatsworth Summer Fine Art Auction – May 28 & 29

Detail The Clipper Ship Flying Fish c. 1950 by Montague Dawson, Est. €15/20,000

Irish and international art is very well represented at Fonsie Mealy’s Chatsworth Summer Fine Art Auction. There are paintings by Gerard Dillon, Harry Kernoff, Augustus Burke, Daniel O’Neill, Sean Keating, James Arthur O’Connor, and also the spectacular The Clipper Ship Flying Fish c. 1950 by Montague Dawson. Best known for his dramatic seascapes depicting clipper ships under sail, this is one of Dawson’s finest depictions of ships at sea, the Flying Fish under full sail, racing through dark blue ocean waves. It is guiding at €15/20,000.

There is a very impressive 16th Century tapestry, depicting The Choice of Hercules, formerly in the collection of the late Hurd Hatfield (1917-1998), the American actor best known for playing the lead role in the 1945 Oscar winning movie The Picture of Dorian Gray. Mr. Hatfield lived latterly in Rathcormac in Co. Cork.

Also on offer is a range of timeless, affordable furniture with lasting appeal: 19th Century gilt Pier Mirrors, mahogany Side Table, Victorian Over-mantel, Georgian mahogany Estate Desk, chinoiserie lacquered Longcase Clock, ebonised Bracket Clock, and more from a Dublin Horologist’s Collection. Luxurious fashion and jewellery include a Patek Philippe gold Wrist Watch, Bulgari Necklace, gold Tennis Bracelet, gold Bulgari Bracelet, Louis Vuitton Vanity Case, and more. Enhance dining with Irish Provincial and Dublin Silverware: a large silver Salver, George III Candlesticks, Charles II Porringer, and assorted Flatware.

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