Back in the black: Irish art sales booming again

This year’s RHA exhibition had sales of nearly €500,000, highest since before the crash

The 2017 Royal Hibernian Academy exhibition. Photograph: Aidan Oliver

The 2017 Royal Hibernian Academy exhibition. Photograph: Aidan Oliver


Ireland’s art market is booming, if figures from the annual Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) exhibition are any indication.

After a dip in 2016, sales rebounded over 30 per cent this year to a level not seen since just before the the financial crash in 2008. A total of €486,935 was paid by collectors for artwork during the exhibition.

The RHA exhibition, now in its 187th year, is the largest in Ireland and the longest-running. The performance of the event is seen as a barometer for the wider Irish art market.

The number of people buying art at the event was up 14.3 per cent this year and the number of artworks sold was almost 20 per cent ahead of 2016.

The single highest price paid was for a sculpture, Europe, by well-known sculptor Imogen Stuart, which fetched €35,000.

Almost 600 works from Irish and international artists were on display at the exhibition, which ran from May 23rd to August 12th, including painting, sculpture, photography, prints, drawings and architecture models.


RHA director Patrick Murphy said: “There was a great sense of participation in this year’s annual exhibition, with over 1,200 artists submitting works for selection.”

“It is very satisfying to see the sales figures recover to near to pre-recession levels,” he said. “In particular, the significant percentage increase in year-on-year sales seems to indicate both the sort of increased consumer confidence that leads to discretionary spending and continued interest in art as an investment. And that translates as financial support to artists, which is our goal.”

Daragh Murphy, regional development manager at investment manager Quilter Cheviot, which has a long-term association with the RHA exhibition, noted that 82 per cent of the works bought in this year’s RHA show were sold for less than €2,000, which is slightly down on last year.

“But we saw an increase in the number of people prepared to buy more expensive works, in the €2,000-€4,000 range, up from 8 per cent to 12 per cent.”