Irish collectors still favour nostalgia
Household names such as Paul Henry and Walter Osborne are not just seen as sound investments; their aesthetic clearly appeals to today’s fine-art purchasers
James O’Halloran of Adam’s auctioneers in Dublin confirmed the decline in antique furniture prices “except for exceptional pieces”, but said in addition to art, silver and china (including Meissen and early Belleek) were among the sectors performing well.
Jewellery, gold coins and smaller decorative items such as china, porcelain and pottery, clocks, glassware and silver are the most collected antique decorative art objects. More specialist items such as militaria, historical and sports memorabilia, stamps, wine, vintage posters and rare books continue to attract, particularly niche collectors. One person’s treasure may be another’s junk but there really is a market for almost everything old. Antique medical equipment, vintage toys and fashion accessories, and pieces of Victorian taxidermy are among the quirkier categories which can pleasantly surprise vendors.
Historical memorabilia is keenly collected and can attract a much wider public if an item relating to a popular figure such as Michael Collins or an event such as the 1916 Rising is being sold. The ongoing decade of centenaries, commemorating the events from 1912-1922 which led to the foundation of the State, is likely to generate further interest and possible price rises for items associated with key people and events – especially the first World War, the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War.
Antique jewellery sales also appear to be holding up well. This is a popular category for both collectors and investors as it combines pleasure and investment. Vintage watches are achieving strong prices and are sought after mostly by men according to O’Reilly’s Auctioneers on Francis Street in Dublin. And, despite the decline in the international price of gold this year, John Weldon Auctioneers has seen continuing strong demand for gold coins such as Kruggerands and sovereigns.
Next week: How to buy at auction; and understanding the costs
Most Irish art and antiques are sold in Ireland, or at the big London auctions, and are in general bought by Irish buyers or by Irish collectors living abroad. There is little demand for Irish lots from international buyers. That said, two Irish names: Francis Bacon (1909-1992), the Dublin-born painter who lived in London and Eileen Gray (1879-1976), the Art Deco designer who was born in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, and lived in Paris, have climbed into the top-tier and are the most collected and expensive Irish figures in the international fine art and antiques market. Items by both can, and do, regularly sell for millions. The record price at auction for a painting by Bacon was $86.3 million (€55.6 million) paid in 2008, at Sotheby’s, New York for his three-panel painting Triptych, 1976 which was reputedly bought by Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire oligarch and owner of Chelsea Football Club.
In 2009, a leather armchair, known as the Fauteil aux Dragons, designed by Eileen Gray sold for €21.9 million in Paris and set a world record price for 20th century furniture.