AIB banker’s private art collection goes for sale

Art lover Michael Carroll bought works by O’Malley and Souther among others

Most art collectors, sadly, never live to see the financial value of their life's passion realised. But, happily – and rightly – most people buy art for pleasure rather than fretting about its long-term worth. Eventually, however, most private collections are broken up and sold off. Auction salerooms around Ireland are filled with the estates of the deceased as items which were bought for pleasure – or investment – are sold off to benefit heirs. Last year, Michael Carroll, a former banker with AIB Bank and a well-known private art collector, of Dalkey, Co Dublin, died and now 74 pieces from his collection – with a combined top estimate of €350,000 – are to be sold in a de Veres Irish Art Auction which takes place on Tuesday evening (April 4th).

A catalogue note describes Mr Carroll as “a voracious collector, always on the lookout for new pieces, but within the constraints of a modest budget. The walls of his and his wife, Ita’s Dalkey home were hung salon-style, the walls tightly-packed to accommodate the works acquired slowly over decades”.

But apart from his own collection, Carroll was also instrumental in assembling one of modern Ireland’s most important corporate collections of art for AIB.

According to Frances Ruane, the academic and economist who was hired by AIB in 1979 to advise the bank on its art acquisitions policy, Carroll was "one of the executives in AIB who initially promoted the idea that people who worked in the bank should be able to enjoy art in the workplace [and] . . . had a kind of missionary zeal when it came to spreading the word". He was "fascinated by artists, getting to know them and trying to better understand the way they thought" and his friends included the painter Tony O'Malley, who had begun a career in the bank before leaving to paint full time.


Banking crisis

In the last quarter of the 20th century, the AIB art collection grew to number more than 3,000 pieces valued at up to €12 million.

However, following the banking crisis of 2008, and the subsequent, effective nationalisation of AIB, the key pieces in the collection – including paintings by Jack B Yeats, Paul Henry and Sir John Lavery – were handed over to the State and, following a government decision, given permanently to the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork.

But Dr Ruane said Mr Carroll continued with his own private collecting and “acquired art, lots of it”.

He bought mainly 20th-century Irish art – over many decades – principally from The Dawson and the Taylor Galleries in Dublin.

As a gesture to this long association, the auction viewing will, therefore, take place at The Taylor Galleries, 16 Kildare Street, from 11am today. The sale itself will take place on Tuesday evening in the Royal College of Physicians, 6 Kildare Street at 6pm. Online bidding is also available via

Good home

Commenting on his private collection Dr Ruane said Mr Carroll was “open to any genre, looking for gems in any style or medium” and that “ one can only hope that prospective buyers will match his passion. These much-loved pieces came from a ‘good home’ and they deserve another.”

Among the highlights are, inevitably, some paintings by his friend Tony O'Malley including Lot 11, Interior (1961), estimated at €8,000-€12,000; and Lot 15, Thinking of the South (France) by Camille Souter estimated at €7,000-€10,000, which he bought from the estate of Sir Basil Goulding in 1982.

Carroll was a fan of William John Leech, the painter who died in 1978, and among three paintings by him in the collection on offer, the most notable is Lot 19 Boats at Low Tide, made in Dorset circa 1948, and estimated at €5,000-€7,000.

He also collected William Scott, the Scottish artist who grew up in Northern Ireland, and who is widely collected here, including Lot 60, Still Life (1973), an oil-on-canvas darted 1948, estimated at €60,000-€90,000; and Lot 35, Pear and Grapes, gouache-on-paper dated 1975, estimated at €15,000-€20,000. There are also paintings by, among others, Evie Hone, Norah McGuinness, Mary Swanzy, Barrie Cooke, Patrick Collins and Harry Kernoff.

Apart from the Carroll collection, there is a total of 160 pieces of art and sculpture in the auction and the top estimate is for Lot 96 – a Jack B Yeats painting entitled From the Woods Shadow, which depicts a barefoot boy wandering through the Phoenix Park, and is estimated at €80,000-€120,000. The painting is being sold by a descendant of Frank and Constance Vickerman – English friends of the artist, who were regular visitors to Ireland where they also bought art – in another classic example of a privately-owned art collection being dispersed.

De Veres, Irish Art Auction, Tuesday, April 4th, 2017 at 6pm in the Royal College of Physicians, No. 6 Kildare Street, Dublin 2. Viewing from today at the Taylor Galleries, 16 Kildare Street, Dublin 2.