The London-born artist moved to the Cornish seaside town in 1959 after seeing a film about the painter Alfred Wallis. There he found work as an assistant, first with the sculptor Denis Mitchell and then with Barbara Hepworth.
As well as painting and sculpting, he mastered other artistic disciplines from his studio on Porthmeor Beach including printmaking, weaving and jewellery.
As one of the more influential and internationally recognised artists of the St Ives School, O’Casey’s secondary market is well established, so when good examples come on the market they usually attract interest.
This was the case for a pair of bird sculptures and two acrylic collages that drew a flurry of bids totalling just shy of £40,000 at Lay’s (18% buyer’s premium) Cornish Art & Fine Art sale in Penzance on August 4.
The rarest was the 11½in (29cm) high bronze Crow II, which was made in a small edition of five in 2004. Inspired by Georges Braque, O’Casey frequently referenced birds in both his paintings and sculpture with this example coming from one of his most popular series.
Holding a bead in its beak, the bronze bird had been purchased direct from the artist by the vendor and was offered with an estimate of £10,000-15,000. After competitive bidding on the phones, it sold for £26,000 to a private buyer.
According to artprice.com, an example from this edition made €3300 (around £2600) at De Veres in Dublin in 2012 – the last time an O’Casey crow came up at auction, showing the price leap his bronze bird sculptures have made.
From artists' collection
The other sculpture, a 1997 bronze called Bird made in an edition of three, fetched £13,000 against a £9000-12,000 estimate and sold to the same buyer who fought off competition from the internet.
It had formerly been in the collection of artists Nancy Wynne-Jones and Conor Fallon and sold in the auction of the couple’s collection at Adam’s in Dublin in 2015 for €3400 (£2400). It follows the £10,000 paid at Woolley & Wallis in December 2021 for a similar sculpture titled Bird in Flight which was made in an edition of eight.
Also improving on its previous auction price was the 2006 acrylic collage on board Black Field.
The 2ft 9in x 2ft 11in (83 x 89cm) abstracted landscape came with provenance to the Peppercanister Gallery in Dublin (a copy of sales receipt was included in the lot) and had sold at Adam’s in 2018 for €3300 (£2950). In Penzance, estimated at £5000-8000, it sold for £5500 to an online buyer.
Over three-quarters of the size but attracting just as much interest was an untitled 5 x 9in (12 x 23cm) acrylic on paper work from 1998 that had been gifted by O’Casey to the vendor of the bronze crow. Six bidders competed for the lot estimated at £1000-2000, with the hammer falling to a local private client bidding over the phone for £2800.