However, his early works are largely unknown. Few examples have come on the market as Irvin kept many of them in his studio – even in the face of interest shown by the St James’s gallery Whitford Fine Art during his life.
“Irvin thought that the public might not recognise these,” says the gallery’s Gabriel Toso. “And people may not, but how can you understand an artist if you don’t know his early works?”
Now, with its exhibition of Irvin’s early output (November 3-December 1), Whitford Fine Art seeks to offer a more rounded view of the artist’s paintings and Modern British art as a whole. It offers 29 previously unseen pieces, painted from 1950-70.
Gimpel Fils, the Davies Street gallery that represents Irvin’s later works – generally more colourful and often much larger – was committed to its own timeframe. So it was not until Whitford was approached by Irvin’s two daughters last year that the idea of a show of early paintings started to become a reality.
Putting the event together was straightforward, Toso says, with the blessing of both Gimpel Fils and the artist’s estate. Prices are competitive, ranging from £5000-30,000. For some collectors, this will be a rare chance to snap up fresh works from this period by a well-known name.
“This represents 20 years of his work and the palette and the style fit in very well with the understanding of Modern British art,” Toso says. “Some work is a classic bridge between the colours that would make him famous. The rest is just exciting.”