Le Brocquy tops list of bestselling paintings in 2012
As Irish art halves in value since the boom years, buyers continue to invest in big names such as Yeats and Henry
A painting by artist Louis le Brocquy, who died last April, was the most expensive painting sold at auction in Ireland in 2012. The list of the top 10 prices was compiled from sales results provided by the country’s three leading art auctioneers. No living artist features in the list, which is dominated by Jack B Yeats, who died in 1957, and Paul Henry who died a year later, and who together account for seven of the top 10.
The top-seller, Procession With Lilies, by Louis le Brocquy made €320,000 at an Adam’s art auction on September 26th. The oil-on-canvas, dated 1984, and measuring 45 by 58 inches, was inspired by a newspaper photograph of girls in First Communion dresses carrying white lilies. It was sold by newspaper group Independent News and Media, which disposed of its art collection following the company’s relocation to new offices in Dublin.
Second was The Night Has Gone, a 1947 painting by Jack B Yeats – depicting a man in a landscape at daybreak – which made €225,000 at a de Veres auction in November.
The number three slot was taken by Interior Of A Cafe (€200,000 at Adam’s) by William John Leech the artist best-known for A Convent Garden, Brittany in the National Gallery of Ireland.
Like property, Irish art prices have fallen sharply since the boom – down, in many cases, by 50 per cent and more.
But while prices may have fallen, volume has held steady and art is still selling – in large quantities. While art is being bought by traditional and new collectors for aesthetic reasons, auctioneers are also reporting increased interest from bidders seeking so-called “safe haven” investments.
All three of Ireland’s biggest art auction houses have reported steady volume in 2012 which is remarkable considering the current economic conditions.
According to James O’Halloran, managing director of Adam’s: “Sold rates have remained solid throughout 2012, at an average of 80 per cent, which is virtually the same as the last three years.”
Auctioneer Ian Whyte said the market had “stabilised” and sales to clients in the US were “improving”.
He was hopeful that the Gathering event “will be an opportunity for sales of Irish art” in 2013.
John de Vere White of de Veres claimed there was “real value now in the market place for those who are prepared to do their homework and remain patient” and that “serious buyers will compete for anything of quality that appears”.
The list of the top 10 prices achieved in 2012 is not an indicator of future value. While a le Brocquy painting tops the list, it is too early to assess how the art market will, ultimately, judge his legacy. Prices for le Brocquy’s work at auction had been falling for some years before his death – having reached a peak in 2006 when his painting Sick Tinker Child sold for euro €820,000 at auction in Dublin.
Since his death eight months ago, quite an amount of work by the artist has appeared on the market. In May, a set of 20 tapestries, featuring images of drawings made by le Brocquy for poet Thomas Kinsella’s translation of The Táin, made €245,000 at Whyte’s auction. This represented a huge price drop since the set last changed hands, a decade ago, in a private transaction for an estimated €800,000.
In June, his painting titled Indoors, Outdoors, described by Adam’s as an “early masterpiece” and estimated at €500,000-€800,000 failed to sell. Before Christmas, many of his paintings failed to sell in the big London auctions.
Adam’s said “the strong price” achieved for Procession With Lilies has returned le Brocquy’s name “into the bright lights”. Time, and the art market in 2013, will tell. For now, the only sure-fire bets seem to be Yeats and Henry.