Irish Art holds its own as Investment

Irish Art holds its own as Investment - Michael Flatley

‘Never buy a painting that you don’t even like’

Ever since the banking and property crash of 2008 those lucky enough to have some spare money to invest have been looking around for something that will give an above inflation yield.

Various sharks have touted vintage wine – opening the way for various scams in which counterfeit crus have lain undiscovered until the fraudsters have fled – and we’ve all seen the ads for gold.

The Financial Times recently reviewed the Queen’s investment portfolio since 1952 and concluded her art portfolio performed 3 per cent above inflation per year or had grown in value by 500 per cent, or twenty times after inflation.

Irish Art holds its own as Investment - Irish Art Michael Flatley and one of his paintings On Pretty One.
Michael Flatley and one of his paintings On Pretty One.

During the so-called Celtic Tiger years conspicuous acquisition of art, and Irish art especially, was never far from Irish headlines. That all stopped a couple of years ago as Sotheby’s and Christies quietly, and without fanfare, gradually wound down their Irish Sales. But now, as the Irish economy booms again, those sales are back (see overleaf).


But an Irish-owned gallery in one of London’s richest neighbourhoods – which has an international and Irish clientele and does not deal exclusively in Irish art – says that for those who kept their heads and common sense art has always been a good investment even, or especially, in the post-Crash years.

Cameron McMillan, originally from Kildare, has been running the business his father started, McMillan Fine Art, in south Kensington for the past 20 years but has not had to rely solely on his wealthy local clientele.

“The average gain or return for many in art is 11 per cent a year but that is a baseline and it depends on the art and how well you buy,” he says.

Irish Art holds its own as Investment
Fashion designer Roubi L’Roubi with Agita Selicka and Piers Spencer.

“We’re lucky, we have a lot of very good Irish customers, our international clients and our American customers. Art is a truly international marketplace.

“It is a good time to invest in art but it is a better time to be cautious. There are some good quality options by some great artists, bad paintings do not really sell in any market.

“There is a fair degree of common sense, you should never buy a painting you do not actually like, it should be something that uplifts you while your investment is safeguarded.

“The tactility of art in your house and on your walls is a lovely thing.

Irish Art holds its own as Investment

“So long as you get proper advice, whether the painting is actually by the painter it is supposed to be by, if it has been over cleaned, how technically good it is, then you will always have some recourse. You can go badly wrong if you do not understand what is a good painting. Start with something simple like ‘how well is it painted’, for instance. It is an advice-orientated investment.”

Weren’t a lot of people caught out in the Celtic Tiger years?

“People tend to look at paintings as an example of the excesses of the Celtic Tiger but they did well for a huge amount of people. A lot of people who had to raise cash quickly because of the property collapse were able to do so and actually did quite well.


“As for Irish art at the moment, there’s some wonderful value to be had at the moment and some wonderful paintings for sale, take Frank McKelvey (1895-1974) who did some really beautiful, very well-painted work and the same for James Humbert Craig (1877-1944), very attractive subjects. Any of these would be a pleasure to have in any collection while they return their investment.”

How much should someone, like a beginner, look to spend?

“The artist we’re exhibiting at the moment (see photos), Ron Mitchell, is a northern English marine artist and he is an amazing artist who captures life and the skill of sailing, we’ve only twenty of his paintings that were done on the Solent and they are fantastic.

Irish Art holds its own as Investment
Andy Brown, James Prior and McMillan Fine
Arts chief executive Cameron McMillan.

“An artist like that, the paintings sell from between £750 and £7,500. People might ask how many can afford to spend up to, say, £5,000 on a painting but if you think that we are in London where ordinary, average houses can cost £2m, then that kind of money is not a lot to spend and gives a return.”

Do you have any hot tips for the future?

Cameron believes that Michael Flatley, whose very expensive feet paintings have provoked some scepticism and even mockey for the prices asked, will have the last laugh.

“I think his paintings are going to become hugely valuable over time, once he gets behind them. They ooze energy and as for being done by his feet, most of his life revolves around his feet.

“They are actually very pleasing visually and look good in an upmarket modern, designer apartment, and once he starts producing lithographs and starts to market them they will do fantastically well.

“People forget that Picasso and Salvador Dali were fantastic marketeers who knew the value of their own brand. The same might be said for Damien Hirst, who is supposed to have several people working for him on his paintings.

“To be a great artist who sell you also have to be a great promoter and I think Michael Flatley is just that.”

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