Irish fine art and antiques sales buck the trend
The third part in the summer series examines the surprising upswing during the recession in the €50 million Irish arts and antiques market
A Fair Day, Mayo by Jack B Yeats sold for €1 million in 2011, the highest figure paid at auction for a work of art in Ireland
The Rolls at Mount Congreve
Michael Sheppard with a Chinese white jade seal that sold for €630,000
The Irish fine art and antiques market was worth an estimated €50 million last year. That’s a drop of about 50 per cent since the peak of the boom and prices, especially for modern art and antique furniture, have fallen sharply since the crash of 2008.
But despite ongoing economic turmoil and austerity, the market is proving to be defiantly resilient. None of the big auction houses have gone out of business and, surprisingly, new entrants have even joined the market. Overall, sales volumes appear to be holding up, albeit at much reduced prices, with auctioneers regularly reporting up to 80 per cent of lots sold.
Ironically, the banking crisis and the visceral fear of a Cyprus-style raid on savings accounts of more than €100,000, may be of benefit to the market. James O’Halloran, managing director of Adam’s, the country’s biggest fine art and antiques auctioneers, said many buyers were people with “money on deposit” deciding to use some of the cash to buy an item of beauty and value rather than put up with poor interest rates. According to Ian Whyte, managing director of Whyte’s auctioneers, low [deposit] interest rates and the lack of confidence in property and the stock market means “the art market will benefit from those seeking a tangible asset of enduring beauty and value”.
Fine art and antiques are sold through galleries, specialist shops and fairs but the traditional, most transparent and still most popular outlet is through public auction.
The big three Dublin auctioneers, Adam’s, de Veres and Whyte’s, are holding auctions as frequently as during the Tiger years. Dublin’s big jewellery auctioneers, O’Reilly’s in Francis Street and John Weldon Auctioneers in Temple Bar, report continuing strong demand for antique jewellery, silver and collectible watches .
Bonhams has opened a Dublin office, complementing the existing presence in Ireland of the other major international auctioneers, Christie’s and Sotheby’s.
New venues include the Limerick Auction Rooms; the Ashgrove Auction Rooms in Naas, Co Kildare; and a salesroom on Capel Street opened by Damien Matthews, an auctioneer based in Oldcastle, Co Meath. Long-established firms, Herman and Wilkinson of Rathmines and Adams Blackrock, in south Co Dublin, have both undertaken major saleroom refurbishments. The Co Kilkenny family-run Mealy’s has separated into two businesses, Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers (best known for rare book sales) and Mealy’s Fine Art, and both seem to be flourishing.
West Cork art auctioneer Morgan O’Driscoll has begun holding occasional auctions in Dublin. Galway-based Dolan’s holds art auctions at locations from Connemara to Limerick. Sheppard’s of Durrow has established a strong Asian art business and now routinely attracts bidders from China and even publishes its online catalogues in Mandarin. Other family-run fine art and antiques auctioneers that have weathered the downturn and continue to trade include RJ Keighery’s in Waterford, Hegarty’s in Bandon, Mullens in Bray, Drum’s in Malahide, Victor Mee’s in Cavan, Donohoe’s in Goresbridge, Victor Mitchell’s in Roscrea, Oliver Usher’s in Kells, and Woodward’s in Cork. There are antiques shops in most big towns throughout the country and Dublin’s traditional antiques quarter in Francis Street has been rebranded and even seen some new shop openings.
At the less expensive end of the market, art and antiques fairs are held almost every weekend of the year at hotel venues throughout the country. Joan Murray of Vintage Ireland, who organises antiques fairs, says: “With low overheads, dealers at the smaller fairs can afford to sell on at a small profit, thereby keeping prices low.”