More visitors but fewer sales at RHA exhibition

Sales down 23% on 2015, but record attendence figures suggests revival of interest in art

Sales at this year's RHA annual exhibition were down on 2015 although the event attracted record visitor numbers.

The €372,555 in total sales this year was down 23 per cent on the €485,095 in 2015, though it was still ahead of the 2014 revenue. Sales continue to be well down on the €721,083 the exhibition recorded in sales in 2008 just before the financial crash.

The annual show, which has been running for 186 years, is one of the biggest exhibitions and sales of art in Ireland and is regarded as a bellwether for the wider art economy.

"We had a stellar year in 2015 but this year's figures are still very strong," RHA exhibitions curator Ruth Carroll said. "This year we saw a marked increase in new buyers, whilst still retaining our key supporters who continue to support Irish artists.


The exhibition, which ran for 12 weeks, attracted more than 54,000 visitors.

Daragh Murphy, regional development manager of investment manager Quilter Cheviot, which has a long-term association with the RHA exhibition, said the record audience figures were evidence of a growing interest in art as an investment.

“This year’s exhibition was held earlier than normal, to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising, which may have impacted upon the final sales figure somewhat,” he said. “But, that aside, the results are very encouraging.”

Destroyed by fire

The RHA has a connection with the events of 1916 as the contents of that year’s annual exhibition at the academy’s then base in Lower Abbey Street was entirely destroyed by fire during the Rising.

Mr Murphy, whose firm is part of UK discretionary investment firm Old Mutual Wealth, said consumers were being a little more cautious in an uncertain political and economic climate across Europe generally, and ahead of the Brexit vote in the UK "but, in spite of this, the art market continues to rally".

Ms Carroll said that, as in 2015, the majority of sales were for sums below €2,000, “with print and photography making up a growing percentage of sales”.

In all, 298 works were sold during the exhibition, to a total of 209 buyers. More than one in five buyers bought more than one piece.

The exhibition includes painting, sculpture, photography, print, drawing and architectural models by academy members, invited artists and artists selected through an open submission process.

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle is Deputy Business Editor of The Irish Times