Irish art booming at auction sales

Irish art booming sothebys

Things are looking up for the Irish Art Market

Sotheby’s say huge Irish Art auction, which saw some paintings sell for four times the estimate, is ‘a promising indicator of the future of the market’, writes Fiona O’Brien.

A recent Irish Art sale at world-renowned auction house Sotheby’s in London saw lots go for hugely unexpected prices, showing that paintings from the country are a good investment again.

Irish art booming sothebys
Sir John Lavery – The Cello Player

Last Tuesday, 65 per cent of the lots sold with many artists achieving record prices while one painting sold for four times its estimate. The Cello Player far exceeded its top estimate of £20,000-£30,000 when it went to a private collector for £112,500.

Irish art booming sothebys
Gerard Dillon’s Mending Nets, Aran

The top price achieved was for Gerard Dillon’s painting Mending Nets, Aran, which went to an American buyer for £191,000, significantly over its £150,000 estimate. It had been sold for £80,000 at Adam’s in Dublin six years ago.

Charlie Minter, head of Irish art at Sotheby’s, said: “This year’s sale made £1.8 million, over the low estimate and building upon the success of last year’s sale. There were notable prices achieved for leading Irish artists – the likes of Henry, O’Connor, Lavery, Dillon and Swanzy – and it was exciting to see contemporary artists again performing well.”

The buyers all remained private and came from a mix of UK, Irish and American collectors, and many international buyers were among the 1400 people who attended the pre-sale exhibition at the RHA in Dublin.

Irish art booming sothebys
Keating – Self Portrait in a Bear Skin

“We had been very encouraged by our pre-sale exhibition. To see new buyers entering the field and international bidding, from Asia to Europe and the US, is a promising indicator of the future health of this market,” Mr Minter added.

Three paintings that were famously found in a Co. Wicklow ditch last year after being stolen in 2014 were also sold, after insurance company Chubb put them up for sale after already paying out the owner. Lot 44, The Fern in the Area by Jack B Yeats sold for £35,000 (estimate £20,000-£30,000), Paul Henry’s Landscape with Cottage sold for £47,500 (estimate £20,000-£30,000) while Sir John Lavery’s Portrait de Femme au Chapeau sold for just over its £7,000- £10,000 estimate at £11,875.

Some artists achieved record prices, Cubist Landscape with Red Pagoda and Bridge, by Mary Swanzy, estimated at £60,000-£80,000, sold for £112,500, ten years after it made £180,000 at Whyte’s in Dublin in 2006.

Upcoming auction

Irish auction house Whyte’s is holding its annual Irish & International Art sale on 26 September, which includes a vast array of different works from Ireland.

Irish art booming sothebys
The Disasters of War 47 by Gottfried Helnwein

One collection (Lots 1-78) comes from the Estate of George and Maura McClelland, the husband and wife gallerists, who made their mark on the art scene from the mid 60s when they opened their own gallery in Belfast. The pair were both agents and friends to their artists and works in the collection include paintings from Colin Middleton, William Conor, Gerard Dillon and Louis le Brocquy.

In 1975 during the political unrest in the Northern Ireland, during which their premises were bombed, they relocated to Dublin and later divided their time between Kerry, London and the Isle of Man. George McClelland was instrumental in bringing the works of Tony O’Malley to the attention of the Irish collectors in the early 1980s and secured him an Arts Council Travelling Exhibition as well as introducing him to the Taylor Gallery where he exhibited until his death.

Irish art booming sothebys
Bilateral Relief by Frederick Edward McWilliam

The McClelland Collection (over 400 works) was on loan to the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), Dublin from 1999 to 2004 and 170 works donated from the McClelland’s now form part of its permanent collection. Some of those examples exhibited at IMMA and included in ‘The Hunter Gatherer’ publication will now appear on the market for the first time with Whyte’s.

Whyte’s say: “With estimates from €2,000 to €150,000 the variety in terms of budget and tastes will attract many bidders this autumn and provide an exceptional opportunity to acquire from a judicious, thoughtful and celebrated collection which has already received the hallmark of approval from Ireland’s Museum of Modern Art.”

Irish art booming sothebys

The top lot by value in the auction is F.E. McWilliam’s Matriarch, 1935 (illustrated, Lot 50 €100,000-€150,000 (£85,470-£128,210 approx.) a unique piece in cheerywood sculpted at a time when McWilliam was heavily influenced by his friend Henry Moore.

“Highly collectible and rare this work is sure to attract attention both in Ireland and from astute international buyers,” say Whyte’s. Other examples, at more modest guides, in bronze, and rare studies from his 1970s Women of Belfast Series, will be included.

Irish art booming sothebys
Mary Borden and her Family at Bisham Abbey’ by Sir John Lavery

The scope and variety available to collectors of Tony O’Malley’s work in this auction is unequalled. Spanning three decades it ranges from works on paper, to collage, oils on canvas, board and wood to hitherto unseen examples in tapestry. Guides range from €1,000 to €50,000 among the 19 works offered. The balance of the sale (a further 102 lots) includes several other major works by Ireland’s bestknown artists.

A striking 1950 oil by Jack Butler Yeats, Singing Under The Canopy of Heaven, is estimated between €90,000- €120,000 (£76,920- £102,560). Ulster artist Daniel O’Neill features with a charming oil Lot 98, €30,000- €40,000 (£25,640- £34,190). Paul Henry, whose appeal at auction is unwavering, features with an early charcoal Portrait of an Elderly Lady, Lot 80 €10,000-€15,000 (£8,550-£12,820) and a previously untraced oil guiding in the same region.

The auction will take place in the RDS on 26 September at 6pm, and will be broadcast live at

A catalogue is available complimentary during the viewing or by post for€10. It is also available for free download at


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