Discovery by Jack Butler Yeats, €380,000 (£325,000) at Whyte’s.

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“The market is very good – it’s nearly as strong as the good old days of the Celtic Tiger, and in many ways, it has surpassed that.”

Like most auctioneers in the Republic of Ireland, Ian Whyte of Whyte’s (20% buyer’s premium) in Dublin has enjoyed a bumper few years selling Irish art.

The saleroom’s dedicated offering on May 27 was the latest evidence of its solid health, with over €2m (£1.7m) worth of art sold and an 80% selling rate from 131 lots (a further 10% was estimated to be sold after the auction).

Although the trade has long since disappeared from participating in such sales, wealthy private collectors were out in force, with the trend continuing for strong examples of Post-war and Contemporary art, alongside female painters. As Whyte put it, buyers did not want the “run-of-the-mill stuff” but works with “an edge”.

Private vendors hang on 

Supply remains the biggest challenge. Much of the material in the auction comes through estate sales rather than private collections.

“With bank interest rates no good, ‘What would we do with the money?’ is the usual answer we get [from potential vendors]”, said Whyte.

On the flip side, the impact from Brexit has had some positive effects on the art market in Ireland. The flow of art to and from the UK has dwindled since 2016 but now, with the customs VAT rate at 13.5% on art coming into the Republic of Ireland, Irish art collectors who live on the Emerald Isle (the vast majority of the market) are reluctant to buy art in the UK. Vendors who understand this are therefore more likely to consign to Irish auction houses, according to Whyte.

Even the big salerooms that have moved some of their Irish sales from London – Sotheby’s currently holds a sale in Paris, for example – cannot avoid passing on the higher shipping fees to their Irish-based clients. This can apparently cost up to three times more than shipping from London.

A Yeats revelation

Back at the Whyte’s auction, Jack Butler Yeats (1871-1957) led the sale with Discovery, 1952, a large and late work in “excellent condition” that sold to a collector for €380,000 (£325,000) against a €300,000-500,000 estimate.

The 2ft x 3ft (61 x 91cm) oil on canvas dealt with the theme of revelation, showing a man with an “intense expression of the man’s face, sculpted out of thick white and green pigment” wearing a theatrical costume and running through a “cave-like structure”.

It was another high price for Whyte’s, which achieved the current record for the painter with Reverie, a vibrant early painting from 1931 that sold for €1.4m (£1.2m) in 2019.


A Village in the West by Paul Henry, €280,000 (£239,000) at Whyte’s.

An instantly recognisable landscape by Paul Henry (1876-1958), another of the Irish market’s golden boys, was pursued to €280,000 (£239,000), just shy of its top €300,000 estimate.

The 2ft 1in x 2ft 6in (63 x 76cm) oil on canvas A Village in the West, c.1916-17, depicts a cluster of long, low thatched cottages teetering precariously on the brim of a bright hill beneath an expanse of the artist’s signature bulbous clouds. It had sold previously at Christie’s in 2008 for €50,000 (£40,000) – a snip of its current value.

Henry’s traditional subjects could well have seen him fall out of fashion, but as Whyte says, collectors appreciate “the Modernist angle” to his pictures and consistently fork out large sums to secure them.

Back in March, Whyte’s took a top estimate €220,000 (£190,000) for the slightly smaller oil Cottages By a Lake, Achill, Connemara, and fellow Dublin auction house Adam’s sold Mountain Landscape with Cottages, a smaller oil again dated to c.1926-30, on May 27 for €110,000 (£94,000).

Looking at a Swanzy 


In the Window by Mary Swanzy, €90,000 (£77,000) at Whyte’s.

Wholly in tune with collectors’ tastes at the Dublin sale was In the Window by Mary Swanzy (1882-1978), one of Ireland’s leading Cubist painters whose vibrant works encapsulate the experimental art of Paris during the early 20th century.

The 2ft x 20in (61 x 51cm) oil on canvas was described by the auction house as an “important example” from Swanzy’s oeuvre “bringing together on canvas a number of artistic movements she absorbed and was inspired by first hand” including Cubism, Orphism, Italian Futurism and British Vorticism.

Prior to the financial crash, back in 2006 during the peak of the Celtic Tiger boom when many artist’s records were set, the picture had sold for €100,000 (then around £67,000). At Whyte’s, decent interest ensured it tipped over top estimate to sell for €90,000 (£77,000).


Miss Alice Fulton at Paisley Lawn Tennis Club by John Lavery, €95,000 (£81,000) at Whyte’s.

An exception to the dominance of 20th century pictures was Miss Alice Fulton at Paisley Lawn Tennis Club, 1889, by John Lavery (1856-1941).

The swiftly executed oil sketch, one of two known to have been painted on the spot at the club in Paisley near Glasgow, relates to a larger, more finished canvas.

The young girl in the 10 x 14in (25 x 35cm) oil on canvas was the daughter of Joseph Fulton, co-owner of a large cloth scouring, finishing and dyeing works in Paisley.

The work, admired for its spontaneity and conveying “all the freshness of the moment”, attracted plenty of interest and was taken to €95,000 (£81,000) against a €60,000-80,000 estimate.

Kitchen reel life


Dancing scene by William Conor, €42,000 (£36,000) at Whyte’s.

The sale also included one of the highest prices fetched at auction for a dancing scene by William Conor (1881-1968). His warm and sympathetic portrayals of working-class life in Ulster have always been much admired, as is his ability to produce a sense of movement in his compositions.

A strong example of both, the 20in x 2ft (50 x 60cm) oil on canvas, depicting a ‘ceilí’ in the kitchen of a farmhouse, had also been through the hands of some notable people including the wealthy coal and oil importer John Reihill and Bertie Smyllie, the famous editor of The Irish Times. In “excellent condition”, it was knocked down for €42,000 (£36,000) against a €20,000- 30,000 estimate.

£1 = €1.17