The traditional pre-Christmas auctions in Dublin often see some of the best Irish art of the year on the market and, despite the sector still being tough going, a good number of works by leading names appeared this time round.
In general terms, demand for top works by
these artists has held up enough to keep things afloat during the
downturn, although whether or not the marginal improvement in
market conditions over the course of 2012 helped persuade vendors
to consign here is uncertain.
The art market in Ireland is often said to
follow the fortunes of the property market. Although both sectors
still remain far short of the heady days of the Celtic Tiger boom,
the Irish property market is steadily recovering since prices fell
by over 50% in 2008 and now the art market has mostly stabilised
since reaching rock bottom around two or three years ago.
The current series, however, had two added
concerns entering the mix. First was the looming 'mansion tax'
announced in the Irish government's December budget. Those with
property valued at over €1m will soon have to pay a 0.25% levy on
Although this will undoubtedly take a
certain amount of money out of the pockets of wealthy buyers, Irish
auctioneers generally felt it was not serious enough to have a
damaging a knock-on effect on the art market.
One auctioneer even suggested to ATG that
a potential bidder living in a reasonably expensive property (if
not quite a 'mansion') might consider investing their resources in
furnishing the property with a 'bankable' picture rather than
build, for example, an extension or conservatory which would add to
their tax liability.
The second issue borne out in the current
sales was the question of the over supply of works by certain
Buyers of Irish pictures have become an
increasingly selective group and over the last two months there
have been a lot of works by the likes of Jack Yeats and Paul Henry
for them to choose from - both at salerooms in the UK as well as
across the Irish Sea.
After their most recent auctions, each of
the Dublin salerooms said that finding fresh material and pitching
at the correct levels was therefore essential.
They also noted that the market was
becoming a bit more active thanks to both the appearance of some
new players as well as the return of a few older faces.
No artist is bigger in the Irish art
market than Jack Butler Yeats (1871-1957) and this
season saw a fair number of works spread around the different
houses. A good Yeats is still one of those 'bankable pictures' and
this was proven here again, even though there were probably more
works on offer by the artist than the market could absorb in a
The pick of the Yeats consignments on this
occasion came at
de Veres (19.5% buyer's premium), who offered five works by the
painter at their Irish Art sale in Dublin on November 27. Four got
away, fetching a combined €366,000 (£310,170).
Together they contributed over half the
sale's €630,000 (£533,900) hammer total from 102 lots.
The pictures included The Night Has
Gone, a signed 18in x 2ft (46 x 61cm) oil on canvas from
A work dealing with the theme of isolation
in the typically distinctive expressionistic style from the
artist's later period, it was a particularly well-regarded
Buyers were attracted both to its vivid
palette and the fact that the figure depicted was thought to be the
artist himself walking alone in a landscape in the early hours of
the morning. In some senses this was a nocturnal scene, although
its most striking feature was the bright stream of light breaking
out across the low horizon.
Crucially as well, this was a fresh
consignment, having remained in the same private collection for 20
years and before that in another private collection in Belfast.
Estimated at €150,000-200,000, the pitch
was deemed about right as this was, ultimately, not the largest or
earliest painting by Yeats and so was unlikely to break the
€400,000 bar, as his works have done around ten times before.
On the day, the lot drew four bidders and
was eventually knocked down to an Irish buyer at €225,000
This was a decent sum but the work by
Yeats that failed to get away seemed to suffer a little by
A Lament from 1930, which was
offered with the same €150,000-200,000 estimate, was a more muted
and less commercial picture. It was also not as fresh to the
market, having been purchased by the vendor at de Veres in April
This failure, together with another unsold
Whyte's (18% buyer's premium) the day before, seemed to
underline the surplus of works available this winter.
In terms of the latter picture, The
Comforter, which was also estimated at €150,000-200,000, the
auctioneers actually received offers after the sale which were
thought to come from some of the interested parties who had missed
out on the de Veres picture.
Although offers ended up coming in above
the low estimate, the vendor at Whyte's decided to keep the
picture, partly because their other consignments at the sale had
already raised sufficient funds.
Whyte's did, however, see Yeats' smaller
Against the Stream from 1945 getting away at €53,000
(£44,915) against an estimate of €50,000-70,000 to an American
Indeed, the strengthening of the dollar
against the euro over the last eight months has encouraged greater
interest from across the Atlantic. Whyte's also had the attractive
waterfall painting by Yeats, Glencar Sligo, which took
€42,000 (£35,595) from an Irish buyer against a guide of
Harbours and Horses
Back at de Veres, the second most
expensive Yeats was knocked down to a buyer from England. This was
Safe Harbour from 1946, a signed 14 x 18in (35.5 x 46cm)
oil on canvas depicting a boy playing with a toy sailing boat in a
pool while his mother walks on the shore. Estimated at
€80,000-120,000, it took €90,000 (£76,270).
The other work by the artist to make a
significant sum here was the earlier and smaller Fresh
Horses - once owned by the actor Peter O'Toole - although
admittedly it drew slightly less bidding. The 14 x 9in (36 x 23cm)
signed oil on board from c.1914 got away on low estimate at €40,000
Adam's (20% buyer's premium), who set a record for any painting
sold in Ireland just over a year ago when Yeats' A Fair
Day, Mayo took €1m (£917,430), one of their top two
works by the artist was withdrawn before their sale in Dublin on
December 4, apparently because of a family dispute.
This was The Belle of Chinatown,
which had been estimated at €60,000-80,000.
Nevertheless, they saw competition emerge
on another work entitled Engravings from 1943, which took
a mid-estimate €60,000 (£50,850) from a Dublin collector.
The 14 x 18in (36 x 46cm) signed oil on
canvas benefited from bright colours and some interesting
compositional features, including the curtained window which acted
as a frame around the woman gazing at the engravings.
The central figure, however, showed no
facial features and was rather static, which might have deterred
bidders. It had provenance to the well-known collector Jack Toohey,
and the Dublin vendor who acquired it in March 1989 would have seen
a decent return, something that indicates the long-term growth of
Yeats' prices, even factoring in the 2008 downturn.
The heavy supply of Paul Henry
(1876-1958) pictures has also affected bidding levels for
works in Dublin and London. A number of more regular landscapes
have either failed to sell or just managed to get away at recent
sales, although Adam's did see decent demand for the pick of the
three lots in their sale - Grace O'Malley's Castle, Achill
Sound, a 14 x 16in (36 x 41cm) signed oil on canvas that came
from a private UK vendor.
It went over a €40,000-60,000 estimate to
sell for €62,000 (£52,540), knocked down to an unnamed buyer on the
Another work by the artist, Turf
Stacks, West of Ireland, which was darker and therefore less
commercial, was unsold against the same estimate.
Overall Adam's sale posted a total just
shy of €1.4m (£1.19m) from 195 lots, with a selling rate of 81%
The top lot came from the same family that
had provided the €1m Yeats, the source of around 20 pictures at the
current sale, but it was a more traditional picture. This was
The Travelling Show by Richard Thomas Moynan
(1856-1906), a 2ft x 3ft 4in (61 x 1.02m) oil on canvas
signed and dated 1892.
A fairly typical scene by the Dublin-born
artist, it had some similarities to his most famous picture,
Military Manoeuvres, painted the year before, although
that work (now in the National Gallery of Ireland) was over twice
Here the subject was the excitement caused
in a small village by the arrival of a Punch and Judy show. One of
the barefoot boys was depicted gazing directly out at the viewer
while another shakes his fist, both features adopted in other
examples of Moynan's naturalistic scenes of provincial life.
In good condition, it was estimated at
€150,000-250,000, but despite three parties expressing an interest
it sold below estimate at €140,000 (£118,645) to a telephone buyer.
It is believed to be going to North America.
A work from the same source that made a
lesser sum but drew more competition was a smaller scene of a
Galway street by Walter Frederick Osborne
(1859-1903), an artist who like Moynan had studied at the
Academie Royale des Beaux Arts in Antwerp in the 1880s.
The 7½ x 11in (19 x 28cm) signed oil on
board had been purchased from The Pyms Gallery in London and here
was estimated at €15,000-20,000.
It was slightly unusual in that the
figures were shown larger and closer to the viewer than the
majority of the artist's pictures, although the everyday atmosphere
of a Galway town was highly typical.
It sold to an Irish private buyer at
€30,000 (£25,425) - a good sum for a work of this size by Osborne
Lavery and le
Meanwhile, the sale at
Whyte's in Dublin on November 26 totalled just over €1m
(£847,460) with 75% of the 217 lots sold.
Despite the sums made by the
previously-mentioned Yeats paintings, the highest prices at Whyte's
came for two other major names in the Irish market.
One was the €76,000 (£64,410) for
Sir John Lavery's (1856-1941) The Rising Moon,
Tangier, which was under the €80,000-120,000 estimate, but the
other was the €70,000 (£59,320) that came for a Louis le
Brocquy (1916-2012) tapestry, Adam and Eve in the
The latter was one of nine large-scale
tapestries which were based on designs made by the artist for a
series produced in 1952 by the Atelier René Duché. These designs
were eventually re-worked in the late 1990s by Le Brocquy, who
inverted the colours before they were expertly woven and then
exhibited at London dealers Agnew's.
This one came to auction from an Irish
vendor who had acquired it directly from the artist and was offered
with a €40,000-60,000 estimate. After drawing decent competition,
it was knocked down to a Dublin-based buyer at €70,000 (£59,320)
and appears now destined to decorate the wall of a Georgian
Although another of the nine tapestries
had made €100,000 (then £71,430) in May 2007 at Adam's, the price
here suggested that demand for such decorative works by Le Brocquy
has levelled out over the course of this year, even if it is still
shy of the boom-time levels.
Exchange Rate: £1 = €1.18