Who's that girl - could mystery portrait be a Kennedy?


MINISTER for Finance Michael Noonan’s plea for the public to get out and spend certainly resonated with auction-goers at Mealy’s two-day summer fine and decorative art sale in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny this week. Over 750 bidders spent €300,000 and 73 per cent of the 1,200 lots sold.

A mystery portrait of a girl which made €900 is reputed to be a “lost” painting of a member of the Kennedy family, America’s most famous political dynasty. A Portrait of a Young Girl in a White Dress with Pink Trim Seated on a Chairhad been estimated to sell for between €1,000 and €1,500.

The oil-on-canvas, dated 1938 and measuring 5ft by 3ft, is by Frank W Wood an English painter and it is unclear how this portrait ended up in Ireland.

Auctioneer George Gerard Mealy said the vendor, an Irish hotelier, bought the painting over 20 years ago at a house-clearance sale. He had it hanging in his hotel near Dublin where it was spotted by an elderly art dealer who instantly recognised it as a Wood and claimed that it was “definitely of one of the Kennedys”. The art dealer offered to buy it but the hotelier refused and the picture has been in his private collection ever since.

If the portrait is, indeed, one of the Kennedys then the likely contender is Jean Kennedy Smith who was 10-years-old in 1938 when her father Joe became US ambassador to Britain. It is possible that the portrait was painted by the artist while the family was living in London and the subject of intense media scrutiny. Mr Mealy believes the girl has the Kennedy jawline.

The successful bidder – a doctor who lives in the southeast – has already started to research the painting and hopes to contact the Kennedy family in the United States. If the subject and provenance of the painting can be authenticated, he may have got a bargain.

Overall, the highest price achieved at the auction was for a set of prehistoric giant Irish deer antlers, found in a Midlands coalshed, which sold for €10,000, double the estimate. A second Boer War bedspread made €550 (€600-€900). However, a “spare head” of Grafton Street’s Molly Malone sculpture failed to sell. Two identical bronze heads were prepared from the original mould 23 years ago by Jeanne Rynhart, the Bantry, Co Cork-based sculptor. However, The Head of Molly Malonefailed to reach its lowest estimate of €20,000 and the auctioneer withdrew the lot when bidding stalled at €18,000.

A Dublin-made grandfather clock from Althorp, the childhood English home of the late Princess Diana, fetched €7,500 (estimate €8,500-€9,500). The clock was apparently bought by her ancestor, the 5th Earl Spencer, when he was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The clock was sold last summer during the Althorp Attic Sale at Christie’s and made £5,000 (€5,585).

Among more affordable lots, a Victorian oleograph titled Children by a Streammade €230 (€200-€300) and a 21-piece art deco tea service just €60 (€70-€90)