Disappointing sales for Irish art in London


Irish art fails to sparkle in London, while Dublin prepares for winter auctions

The glory days of Irish art sales in London are, like other aspects of the boom-time spending spree, a fading memory. Gone are the days when developers would jet to London to buy a few luxury hotels or a chunk of City office space and then snap up a “mantelpiece trophy painting” by Paul Henry or a Jack B Yeats on the way home.

This week’s sales of Irish art at Sotheby’s and Bonhams were lacklustre affairs but the results are probably not bad given the dire fiscal situation.

Economic austerity and the painful exchange rate caused by sterling’s rise means that buying anything in London has become expensive, even though prices for Irish art have dropped considerably.


On Tuesday afternoon at Sotheby’s, 26 Irish paintings went under the hammer and 17 sold. There were five paintings by Paul Henry on the block and three managed to find buyers with the best price achieved for Storm in Connemara which sold for £73,250 (£60,000- £80,000) to a “private Irish buyer”. Only one of the four works by Roderic O’Conor sold. And there was glum news for Louis le Brocquy fans: his oil-on-canvas failed to reach even its low estimate of £35,000 and was among the unsolds.

The top seller at Sotheby’s was a self-portrait by Seán Keating titled Fear Sorrdha (Man at Ease) for which a “European buyer” paid £91, 250 (£50,000-£80,000).

The painting once hung on the walls of Langan’s Brasserie, the London restaurant founded by the late Peter Langan and actor Michael Caine.


The following day, at Bonhams, London, 23 Irish paintings were offered and only 10 found buyers.

Of the four Paul Henrys on offer, three sold – most notably his painting of two Achill Island women titled Old-Age Pensioners which made £109, 250 (£100,000-£150,000).

A watercolour titled A Murder Of Crows by Mildred Anne Butler did very well and sold for £22,500 (£8,000-£12,000) while Sir John Lavery’s Portrait of Mrs Leo D’Erlanger made £5,625 (£4,000-£ 6,000).

Among the unsolds were paintings by Louis le Brocquy, William Conor and John Shinnors.

Also at Bonhams were 10 paintings being sold by Dublin developer David Arnold, some at a fraction of the price he originally paid during the boom. Only five of these found buyers, including Muriel by Colin Middleton which made £70,850 (£40,000-£60,000). This equates to about €87,000 – a big drop from the €170,000 Arnold is understood to have paid for Muriel at auction in Dublin in 2005.

For more results from London, see auction panel.

There’s one more outing for Irish art in London this year – at Christie’s in London next month – and a catalogue is to be published shortly.


Meanwhile, Dublin’s big three fine art auctioneers (Adam’s Whyte’s and de Veres) are gearing up for the winter art auctions. Jack B Yeats will take centre stage with all three auctions featuring multiple examples of his work.

First up is de Veres, who will hold an Irish Art sale in the Clyde Court Hotel (formerly Berkeley Court Hotel) in Ballsbridge on Tuesday, November 27th featuring “four exceptional oil paintings by Jack B Yeats”. The top lot is A Lament which dates from 1930 and depicts the artist’s impressionistic memory of the funeral of Harry Boland in Dublin in 1922. Boland opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty and was shot by Free State soldiers during an attempted arrest in a hotel at Skerries, Co Dublin.

Yeats also painted a more realist version of the funeral (depicting mourners at the graveside) but A Lament, by contrast, depicts the funeral making its way through the streets of Dublin and, despite the subject, is a very colourful image. The painting was bought for £100 in 1944 by Helen O’Malley, wife of Ernie O’Malley who had also been on the anti-Treaty side with Boland during the Civil War.

A Lament last changed hands when it sold (also at de Veres) at auction 10 years ago for €280,000. Now the estimate is €150,000- €200,000.