One of lots drawing a decent competition at the Adam’s sale at Slane Castle last month was a pair of chalk portraits by Robert Healy (c.1743-71).
Rarely seen on the market these days,
the artist achieved considerable recognition in his day even though
he never used colours - something which has led to the suggestion
that he was colour-blind.
In spite of this, he received some
notable commissions for his black and white portraits, including
from Lord Mountjoy and the Conollys of Castletown in County
Kildare. Today, two of his self-portraits can be found in the
National Gallery of Ireland.
Also credited as a horse painter, he
operated from a studio at Wood Quay in Dublin and exhibited his
works at the Society of Artists in William Street where he was
awarded a silver palette for the best exhibited drawing of a group
of figures in 1770.
Having studied chalk and pastel at the
Dublin Society Schools, he was clearly influenced by the portrait
mezzotints of the day and, indeed, the soft techniques he adopted
for these grisaille chalk portraits has been likened to the effects
achieved through mezzotint prints by artists such as his
Anglo-Irish contemporary Thomas Frye (c.1710-62).
Healy's full-length portraits
generally depicted the subjects in a natural setting, as was the
case with the pair at Adam's. Both were signed and dated 1769 and
measured 23 x 16in (58 x 40cm).
Labels on the verso identified the
sitter as Anthony Denny of County Kerry, although, since his dates
did not fit in with the dates on the portrait, the auctioneers felt
that the more likely candidate was his father, Sir Edward Denny of
Tralee Castle and Churchill.
The fact that these pictures came with
a provenance to the Beaulieu estate in Co Louth also suggested a
member of the Denny family as the sitter. The Montgomery family who
owned Beaulieu were connected to the Dennys via
Either way, the re-emergence of this
pair were significant additions to Healy's known oeuvre and these
may well have been the 'Small Whole Length Portraits' which were
recorded as being exhibited by Healy at the Society of Artists in
In common with the medium, highlighted
with bodycolour, both pictures had some condition issues - the
depiction of the man sitting with a sporting gun and dog was in a
notably worse state that its pair showing a man with a bench in a
Estimated at £20,000-30,000, they drew
competitive bidding and were knocked down at €42,000 (£37,170) to a
private Irish buyer.
Although it is difficult to gauge the
strength of this price, since the artist has only appeared at
auction a handful of times in the last 20 years, it compared well
with the result seen for another chalk drawing by Healy which sold
at Christie's sale of items from Glin Castle in May
That work entitled Portrait of
Miss Cunningham holding her King Charles spaniel had a
seemingly more commercial subject and made £15,000.
The Adam's sale at Slane
Castle, Co Meath on October 13-14 also offered J.M.W.
Turner's (1775-1851) only known view of Ireland. The
subject of the 13 x 17¾in (33 x 45cm) watercolour and bodycolour
was Clontarf Castle, the coastal retreat of John Vernon (whose
family had owned the estate since the time of Cromwell), located
about two miles from Dublin city centre. It is now a
While Turner's topographical views and
pictures of country houses are not that uncommon - they were in
fact very much his stock-in-trade, especially in the earlier part
of his career - what set this apart was not just the location but
also the fact that no evidence exists that Turner ever went to
The artist did have a connection to
Clontarf, however, through Vernon's daughter, Maria Sophia, who
became the second wife of Turner's patron and friend Walter Fawkes
of Farnley Hall in 1816.
This picture, dated to c.1817, was
therefore thought to be based on a sketch of the castle by another
hand, possibly that of Maria Sophia Fawkes herself, who was a
talented amateur artist. Could it have been that Turner painted
this view as a reminder for the new Mrs Fawkes of her childhood
Clontarf Castle was built by the
Knights Templar in the 12th century and the nearby Clontarf Church
(which can be glimpsed in the far right corner of the work) was
erected on the site of a monastery founded in 550AD. The present
watercolour showed the castle before the additions undertaken by
John Edward Venables Vernon with the architect William Vitruvius
Morrison in 1836-7.
The depiction of the parkland setting
with attractive autumnal colours, as well as the architectural
details, was typical for Turner's earlier watercolours, but the
peacocks, doves and young ladies conversing with an officer gave it
an added narrative.
In general terms, these kind of views
tend to rank behind his classical landscapes, marine scenes and
later 'tumble-dryer' pictures in their commercial standing, but
this work had an interesting academic element.
Until 1989, its existence was only
known through a listing in Turner's Farnley Hall sketchbook where
the artist had recorded watercolours he had drawn for Walter
Fawkes. Although presumably kept by Fawkes and his wife, its
whereabouts were unknown for much of its history until it was
rediscovered 24 years ago.
Since then, it has been studied by
scholars and exhibited at the National Gallery of Ireland. It has
also changed hands at least once - it was offered at Sotheby's in
London in April 1998 where it was knocked down to the Irish trade
Fifteen years later, it was estimated
by Adam's at €20,000-40,000.
The Irish link didn't seem to spark
the fireworks among collectors that might have been hoped for, but
there were still around five or six interested parties who were
keen on it, mostly from the UK, and bidding on the day rose to
€65,000 (£57,525), when it was knocked down to a UK-based collector
bidding online. The uplift in price across 15 years was not great
but more than reasonable in the context of the generally lacklustre
market for English watercolours.
The price appears in line with the
result for a smaller watercolour entitled The Mouth of the
Avon, near Bristol, seen from Cliffs below Clifton which
sold at Tennants of Leyburn in March this year for £40,000. It is
now owned by the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.
The buyer's premium was