Working in the 1930s-50s, she was most noted for her ‘fabric mosaics’ which incorporated fragments of antique textiles into the composition of the picture.
Borrowing from the Georgian technique of enhancing an embroidery with painted features, Ireland would hand-paint elements (such as the hands and face of figures) onto plain silk, then create the rest of the image from scraps and cuttings of 18th and 19th century appliqué and brocade.
In an interview in 1933 she explained her inspiration: “It was my interest in old fabrics that was really the beginning. I hated to think of lovely materials ever being destroyed or lost to future generations. The idea of framing them behind glass seemed a good way of preserving them, and from this the first fabric picture originated.”
The 18 pictures offered at the auction June 28 had been collected by dealer Paul Reeves over the last 30 years (the L&T auction was titled Hints on Household Taste: Paul Reeves). All sold and exceeded estimate three-fold to total £24,000.
Prices ranged from quite modest sums for the less commercial subjects (A Study for the Christ Child dated 1950 was £130) to the top-selling £3400 (estimate £800-1200) for a three-panel work dated 1933 with the inscription verso Enchantment, Fabric Mosaic by Mary Ireland.
A 9 x 8in (23cm x 19cm) appliqué and painted silk panel titled The Shadow (Blue and Gold Cloak) dated September 1935 sold at £3200, while The Embroidered Kimono of the same date brought £1500.
As a former clothes designer, Reeves has a particular interest in and affinity with textiles. Printed, embroidered and woven fabric panels by designers such as Christopher Dresser, May Morris, Charles Voysey, Sir Robert Lorimer and the Silver Studio were included in this auction.
The day’s most extraordinary bid was the £12,000 tendered way above the £400-600 estimate for a framed needlework panel designed by William Morris for Morris & Co. The Apple Tree panel is one occasionally set in fire screens of the period with prices of around £1000 more typical.