Irish JFK painting in US sale


A painting of President John F Kennedy bought for $600 eight years ago is now for sale at almost $100,000

A PAINTING by an Irish artist, of President John F Kennedy’s last moments on Irish soil has surfaced at a gallery in New Orleans.

Farewell to Irelandby Patrick Hennessy has an asking price of $98,950 (€72,000). The picture has rocketed in value since it was bought for a mere $600 at an auction just eight years ago.

Fine art and antiques dealer, M S Rau described it as “a poignant and evocative painting” which shows the late US president climbing the steps to board Air Force One at Shannon Airport on June 29th, 1963.

Earlier that day, as he concluded his historic three-day trip to his ancestral homeland, President Kennedy had promised to return in the spring. But he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas five month later.

The artist, Patrick Hennessy painted the large oil-on-canvas – which measures 39in by 49in – later that year and apparently based it on a press photograph. Since then, the painting has crisscrossed the Atlantic and changed ownership at least three times.

It is believed that he sold the picture through an art gallery in Chicago where it was bought by a resident of Iowa. In 2003, the painting appeared at a small rural auction in the United States and was spotted by a collector in Dublin who bought it for $600. He brought it back to Ireland and, a year later, consigned it to auction at Whyte’s in Molesworth Street who estimated its value at €8,000-€10,000.

It was sold to a London dealer for €20,000 in February 2004. He, in turn, is believed to have sold it back to America.

Whyte’s managing director, Ian Whyte said the real value of the painting lay in JFK’s enduring appeal.

But how or why did the painting end up in the United States to begin with?

Mr Whyte said that Patrick Hennessy once sold his paintings through the Guildhall Galleries in Chicago and they occasionally turn up at auction in Illinois and neighbouring states including Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Hennessy was born in Cork in 1915 and won scholarships to study art in Dundee, Paris and Rome. He was a well-known 20th century Irish artist who regularly exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy where he was elected a Member in 1949.

His paintings are much sought-after by a devoted coterie of collectors and also hang in various public collections in Ireland. Hennessy travelled widely and died in Portugal in 1980.

His best-known portrait, of novelist Elizabeth Bowen, is in the collection of the Crawford Gallery in Cork. Among his commissions, he was hired by Dr Hempel, the German envoy to Dublin during the second World War, to paint portraits of various family members.

By coincidence, one of these pictures – Portrait of Liv Hempel- has also recently surfaced from a private collector in Germany and will be auctioned by Whyte’s next month in Dublin.