RHA results point to recovery in Irish art market

Sales jump 28% at annual exhibition after five-year slide in investor demand for new work

Graph points to upturn in art sales at RHA.

Ireland’s art investment market has turned a corner after a five-year slump, according to new figures from one of Dublin’s leading galleries.

Results from the Royal Hibernian Academy’s annual exhibition show that it achieved its best sales since 2009. The exhibition, which ran between May 27th and August 9th, saw art worth €366,000 sold, compared to €286,000 last year.

The 28 per cent jump brought sales from the summer exhibition to the highest level since 2009, when €437,000 was raised. It marks the first significant turnaround in sales since 2008.

RHA exhibitions curator Ruth Carroll said a striking aspect of this year's show was that some 95 per cent of the sales were to private individuals rather than to Government or corporate buyers, which represented a much bigger proportion of the marketplace prior to 2008.


She believed this year’s sales figures would send a message of confidence to the cultural economy because they indicated that the middle-income group was once again venturing to spend disposable income.

In 2008, just before the crash, the RHA sold €721,000 of work in its annual exhibition. It had similar sales figures between 2004 and 2007.

But investment manager Quilter Cheviot, which has been a supporter of the gallery for several years, described those pre-2008 sales as belonging to the "unicorn" era of an unrealistic economic confidence.

Daragh Murphy, regional development manager at Quilter Cheviot, said this year’s figures were the first clear sign of recovery in the art market and perhaps acted as an indication about the broader economy.

Middle-income buyers

He added: “More than 80 per cent of the works in this year’s show were on sale for less than €2,000, so this is not the kind of work which is the preserve of only the wealthiest collectors.

“It is contemporary collectable art that would appeal to those on middle incomes to buy, so the upturn in sales figures confirms that a corner has been turned in terms of their confidence and willingness to part with disposable funds.”

Ms Carroll noted that the numbers attending the annual exhibition were up 6.5 per cent to 49,000. The annual show is one of the biggest exhibitions and sales of art in Ireland and is regarded as a bellwether for the wider art economy. “The artistic community has experienced an exceptionally tough five years so our figures offer real cause for optimism,” she said.

A total of 565 works from 356 artists were on sale at the exhibition, of which 229 sold.

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle is Deputy Business Editor of The Irish Times