Orpen portrait is top lot in London Irish art auction

Dublin preview of Sotheby’s auction

The Portrait of Mrs Oscar Lewisohn; formerly Miss Edna May, painted by William Orpen in 1915, is the top Irish lot with an estimate of £120,000-£180,000 (€146,000- €218,000), in Sotheby’s British and Irish Art sale in London on May 22nd.

The Portrait of Mrs Oscar Lewisohn; formerly Miss Edna May, painted by William Orpen in 1915, is the top Irish lot with an estimate of £120,000-£180,000 (€146,000- €218,000), in Sotheby’s British and Irish Art sale in London on May 22nd.

Sat, May 3, 2014, 00:00

Yet another magnificent portrait, of yet another Edwardian society beauty, by Dublin-born painter Sir William Orpen (1878-1931) is to be sold at auction. The Portrait of Mrs Oscar Lewisohn; formerly Miss Edna May, painted in 1915 is the top Irish lot, with an estimate of £120,000-£180,000 (€146,000- €218,000). It will be in Sotheby’s British and Irish Art sale in London on May 22nd.

The painting will be on view in Dublin from Thursday to Sunday (May 8th-11th).

Edna May was an American-born star of the London Edwardian stage whose performance in The Belle of New York at the Shaftesbury Theatre elevated her to great fame. Sotheby’s said she was “was widely acclaimed for her beauty and, following her divorce from her first husband, she was courted by Indian royalty, before finally marrying the dashing Oscar Lewisohn, a New York banker, in 1907, after which time she retired from the stage”.

This portrait attracted the attention of Vanity Fair magazine in April 1916 which noted that “Orpen has a trick of making his sitters look like what they would like to be”. The article described him as “England’s foremost portrait painter” but pointed out that: “William Orpen is another example of the curious, and perhaps significant, fact that the pillars of the English School are usually men who come from Scotland, Ireland and Wales”.

Lewisohn, incidentally, outlived her wealthy husband by more than 30 years and she died at Lausanne, Switzerland on New Year’s Day, 1948. As Edna May she had also been painted in 1907 by the other great Irish artist in Edwardian London, Sir John Lavery.

The Portrait of Mrs Oscar Lewisohn; formerly Miss Edna May last appeared at auction in 1998 when it sold at Christie’s in London for £210,500 (€256,528) .

Sotheby’s said the auction would include more than 30 paintings by Irish artists. They are expected to sell for a combined total of more than €1 million.

There are also paintings by Gerard Dillon, William Leech, Paul Henry, Letitia Marion Hamilton, Sir John Lavery, Roderic O’Conor, Mildred Anne Butler and Jack B Yeats.

The top lot in the auction is Pandora an important pre-Raphaelite painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti which has a high estimate of £7 million (€8.5 million). It was commissioned in 1871 by a wealthy art collector in Scotland for 750 guineas.


Sotheby’s British and Irish Art auction, New Bond Street, London, May 22nd at 3.30pm. Viewing in London from Sunday, May 18th. Irish highlights on view in Dublin at Sotheby’s, 16 Molesworth Street, May 8th and 9th, 10am-5.30pm; May 10th and 11th, 10am-4.00pm.

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