Dublin art auctioneer Ian Whyte is to retire and sell his stake for €2m

Control of Whyte’s auction house passes to his family, as the market for art ‘booms’

Ian Whyte: ‘People who buy art seem to have more disposable income.’ Photograph: Des Kiely

Ian Whyte: ‘People who buy art seem to have more disposable income.’ Photograph: Des Kiely

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Ian Whyte, the high-profile art auctioneer who runs Whyte’s in central Dublin, is retiring from the business after more than 40 years and is cashing in his stake for €2 million.

Mr Whyte, who started in the collectibles business part-time while still at school in 1967, will pass over control of Whyte’s auction house to his family. His wife, Marianne Whyte, takes over as managing director while his son, Peter Whyte, will be head of art.

The retiring Mr Whyte, who is 70 in December, says he has been given the title by the company of “chairman emeritus, a nice title which means I don’t get paid... but I don’t have to do much work, so there is a benefit”.

He insists he will still come to the office three days a week in his retirement, to act as a consultant.

Documents filed this week in the Companies Registration Office show that the entity that controls the art auction house on Molesworth Street, Whyte and Sons Auctioneers, is using just over €2 million from company reserves to buy back his shares. The reason for the transaction is declared as being “to pass ownership and management to younger members of the family, and thereby bring in new ideas and technology to improve the business”.

Mr Whyte obtained his first auctioneer’s licence in 1975 and is a regular media commentator on the sale of art and collectibles. In November 2019, he received a world record price for a painting by Jack Yeats. The piece, Reverie, had a guide price of €700,000 but sold for €1.7 million.

He retires from the business at a “boom time” for Irish art, he says. The pandemic has spurred a great demand for paintings and other pieces of art from wealthy buyers, according to Mr Whyte.

“It is like the Celtic Tiger all over again,” he said. “People who buy art seem to have more disposable income. Many of them are also working from home and looking at a blank wall. They buy art to cheer themselves up.”

While the market for pieces valued at between “a few hundred and a couple of thousand” euro is buoyant, far wealthier buyers at the top end of the market are also active, for entirely different reasons. Mr Whyte said his wealthiest buyers find that in an era of low interest rates, their bank deposits are making very little in interest. “So they are buying art as a sort of safe haven investment.”