Collectable Irish art on the block in London


If Irish art had a stock market, Paul Henry would be a blue-chip equity and a favourite with pension-fund managers and conservative investors. Next week in London, nine of his paintings from private collections in Ireland and worldwide will go under the hammer within a 24-hour period in two auctions featuring Irish art at Sotheby’s and Bonhams.

Eight of the paintings to be sold are the artist’s familiar (and often very similar) landscapes of the west of Ireland and the ninth is an unusual figurative painting of two women.

First up, five paintings will be offered at Sotheby’s on Tuesday and they come from private collections in Ireland, Britain and the Netherlands. They are: Killary Bay, Connemara (£50,000-£80,000); Storm in Connemara (£60,000-£80,000); Achill Coastal Landscape (£40,000-£60,000); Killary Bay (£40,000-£60,000); The Storm (£40,000-£60,000).

On Wednesday, in the Bonhams saleroom, four more will go under the hammer. The Long Road which has the classic mix of cloudy sky, bog and mountain has an estimate of £30,000-£50,000.

Two of the paintings are previously “unrecorded” and come from a private American collection. A Scene Near Achill Sound (£40,00-60,000) and Dugort Bay, Achill Island (£30,000-£50,000).

These two paintings are also of historical significance because they were, apparently, given as a gift to Clemens J France, a US lawyer, by the newly-established Irish government in 1922 in gratitude for his work on the constitution of the Irish Free State.

The highlight at Bonhams, however, and the picture with the highest estimate of all nine of the artist’s paintings, is titled Old-Age Pensioners (£100,000-£150,000). The picture dates from 1911 when Henry lived on Achill Island and, when first exhibited in Belfast in 1913, one newspaper critic observed that the women looked “happy in possession of their pensions”.

Overall, the Irish sales in London are not what they were during the boom days. Sotheby’s has a total of just 26 Irish paintings tucked in at the end of a larger sale which also comprises sections on Victorian, early 20th century, sporting and marine and Scottish paintings.

Henry aside, the most interesting of the other lots is a self-portrait by Seán Keating titled Fear Sorrdha (Man at Ease), £50,000-£80,000) which was part of the collection from Langan’s Brasserie, a well-known London restaurant established in 1976 by the late Peter Langan, and actor Michael Caine.

Other highlights include an oil-on-canvas titled Doves by Louis le Brocquy, (£35,000-£50,000) and two pinkish nudes by Roderic O’Conor, Reclining (£18,000-£25,000); the other Seated (£10,000-£15,000).

Meanwhile, at Bonhams, other lots include 10 paintings being sold by Dublin developer David Arnold, including The Little Harvest, Mayo by Norah McGuinness (£30,000-£50,000).

A striking watercolour titled A Murder Of Crows by Mildred Anne Butler (£8,000- £12,000) comes from a private collection in Spain.

Bonhams also has an intriguing lot by Sir John Lavery, a portrait of Mrs Leo D’Erlanger (£ 4,000-£6,000) which was painted in 1931 as a study for a much larger work, Their Majesties’ Court, Buckingham Palace which has, unfortunately, been lost. The portrait would have been combined with a number of other studies to produce the large painting of the women of King George V’s court. The painting recalls what seems like a long-lost world but the annual presentation of débutantes at court only ended as recently as 1958.

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