No austerity as Chinese bidders target Ireland


Sales of art and antiques continue to defy economic gravity. Who’s got the money? Well, Chinese yuan came flooding into Sheppard’s Irish Auction House in Durrow, Co Laois, on Thursday afternoon where an internet bidder paid €630,000 for a carved jade imperial seal – the highest price ever paid for a piece of decorative art at auction in Ireland.

The Qing period white jade seal, carved into the shape of a dragon, had a pre-sale estimate of just €4,000-€6,000. The Durrow Dragon, small enough to fit comfortably into the palm of a hand, is now heading home after a collector bidding online from the city of Jingdezhen trumped a fellow collector on the phone from Beijing.

Evelyn Malone, the Sheppard’s saleroom assistant handling the internet bidding, said “it was very exciting” while her colleague, Mary Carmen-Rafter, calmly managed the 20-minute call from China.

The result overshadowed the remarkable €180,000 paid earlier in the auction for a blue-and-white Chinese imperial porcelain vase which was initially thought to be of little or no value. It was the final item from a separate collection of porcelain inherited by a Carlow family.

Tao He, a Chinese woman living in Dublin who attended the auction, said the seal was “very beautiful” and made of “very good jade”. She said there was “huge interest in China and a lot of programmes on TV about antiques” and that the Chinese regard antiques as a good investment but that “in China, there’s a lot of fakes” so investors and collectors prefer to buy overseas. That’s music to the ears of Irish auctioneers and antique dealers.

Overall, more than 80 per cent of the 1,600 lots in Sheppard’s three-day sale, which also included furniture, silver, jewellery and various collectibles, were sold.

Lavery tops sale

Earlier in the week, after Whyte’s Important Irish Art auction at the RDS, Dublin on Monday night, auctioneer Ian Whyte remarked: “it was our best sale this year” and 75 per cent of lots were sold to buyers “from the US, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Switzerland, France, India and the UK, as well as Ireland”.

The highest price was achieved for a work by one of Irish art’s bankers, Sir John Lavery whose painting of Edwardian toffs idling by the Med, titled The Rising Moon, Tangier made €76,000 (€80,000-€120,000).

It wasn’t all plain sailing. A Jack B Yeats, titled The Comforter failed to sell when bidding stalled below its estimate (€150,000-€200,000).

The following evening, 70 per cent of lots sold at de Veres in Ballsbridge with the highest price achieved for a Jack B Yeats painting, The Night Has Gone, which made €225,000 (€150,000-€200,000).

For more results from Sheppard’s, Whyte’s and de Veres see auctions results panel, right.

Next week, the last of the big Dublin winter art auctions takes place on the eve of the Budget, on Tuesday night, at Adam’s, St Stephen’s Green.

The top lot is Travelling Show by Richard Thomas Moynan, a wonderful late Victorian painting of children in an Irish village during a visit by a Punch and Judy show. It dates from 1892 and is estimated at €150,000-€250,000.

Among the Poppies by Aloysius O’Kelly was first exhibited in Dublin in 1889 priced £10. The estimate now is €20,000-€30,000.

Other highlights include paintings by Jack B Yeats and Paul Henry, but David Britton of Adam’s said there were “interesting pieces at all price levels”.

Also on Tuesday, Mealy’s two-day auction, an eclectic mix of rare books, manuscripts, stained glass and wine, gets underway at the Clyde Court Hotel on Dublin’s Lansdowne Road.

Highlights include a prayer book which belonged to Michael Collins and an Edwardian-era handbook for visitors to Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel.

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