Another bubbly year ahead?

2014 is likely to see continued buoyancy in the international fine art and antiques market and further improvement in Ireland

Somewhere in the world this week, very expensive corks were popped to celebrate New Year. Before Christmas, Sotheby’s in London sold six bottles of 100-year-old champagne for a grand total of £24,910. That works out at about €830 per glass of bubbly.

The Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Collection 1914 was the star lot in an auction of finest and rarest wines.

The price wasn’t out of kilter during 2013, a year when the global super-rich went on a buying spree and world auction record prices were created in various categories including art, jewels and rare books.

Irish salerooms didn’t quite join this global party but there were signs of modest recovery after five years of post-Tiger gloom.


The early indications are that 2014 is likely to see continued buoyancy in the international market and further improvement in Ireland.

At auctions in Dublin and in the London sales of Irish art, the most popular artists in 2013 were the same names that have dominated salerooms for decades, including Paul Henry, Sir William Orpen, Walter Frederick Osborne, Sir John Lavery, William Leech, Seán Keating and Roderic O'Conor. There is no sign of any big change in 2014.

Auctioneers say there has been a shortage of good paintings being consigned to sale. Like the property market, some prospective vendors appear to be holding back and waiting for prices to recover after falls of more than 50 per cent after the 2008 crash. But, like the stock and property markets, it is almost impossible to time the art market accurately.

Anyone thinking of selling in the first quarter of 2014, whether a painting or a rare book, a piece of antique furniture or a Chinese porcelain vase, would want to get a move-on and ought, now, to be seeking valuations. Auctioneers are already accepting consignments for the first big sales of 2014 and have already begun announcing auction dates on their websites.

Diary dates
Among dates already announced: Whyte's Irish and British Art on Monday, February 24th; de Veres Irish Art on Tuesday, March 25th; and Adam's Irish Art on Wednesday, March 26th. A three-day auction of Antiques and Asian Art will take place at Sheppard's in Durrow starting on February 25th; and, Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers will hold a rare books auction on March 7th. See auctioneers' websites for other announcements.

For those who want, or need, to sell Irish art in London, all three major international auctioneers, Bonhams, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, have representatives in Ireland and undertake valuations here.

Vendors should bear in mind the costs involved, including auctioneers’ fees and, possibly capital gains tax. Buyers should note the price they will pay at auction is not just the hammer price. Count on paying about 20 per cent on top in buyer’s premium fees.

If a painting or sculpture is by an artist who has died within the past 70 years then the sale may also be levied to pay the Artist's Resale Right. Whether selling or buying, always discuss the precise terms and conditions in advance with the auctioneer.

Advice for buyers
Anyone thinking of buying art in 2014 should heed the time-honoured advice: buy what you like and what you can afford. A painting bought for €100 from the railings of St Stephen's Green during a People's Art weekend can give as much pleasure to the buyer as a €100,000 canvas from the Adam's saleroom across the road.

Buy for pleasure and not investment. After all, most people never sell the paintings they buy during their lifetime.

If you are buying with an eye to investment then be aware of forgeries. Gormleys auctioneers withdrew paintings from an auction in Dublin in November after art dealer Dominic Milmo-Penny spotted some pictures that were “not right”.

Despite the fall in the price of gold last year, specialist auctioneers in Dublin who sell antique jewellery and coins, including John Weldon Auctioneers in Temple Bar and O'Reilly's in Francis Street, both reported steady demand which looks set to continue.

Sales of historical memorabilia are likely to be boosted in 2014 by demand for items related to the first World War as major commemorative ceremonies take place to mark the centenary of the start of the conflict. Service medals, postcards sent home by soldiers and "trench art" are among the items collected by enthusiasts of militaria. And, as the centenary of the 1916 Rising draws closer, attics across the country will be searched for any mementoes documenting the struggle for Ireland's independence which may still lie hidden. There is likely to be a growth in demand, and prices, for memorabilia related to Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela, who both died in 2013.

Online activity
The internet is transforming both the international and Irish fine art and antiques markets and the trend towards online bidding is likely to accelerate further in 2014.

Most of the big auctioneers now broadcast their auctions live on the web and some have even begun holding occasional online-only sales. The web is boosting the size of the market.

Auctions in Ireland are increasingly attracting audiences and bids from the Irish diaspora worldwide. This is clearly good for business but also means bidders in the saleroom can no longer judge who they’re up against.

As an example of the internet's impact, at Whyte's final art auction of 2013, almost half of registered bidders were online in locations as diverse as Algeria, Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, France, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and the USA.

National Gallery celebrates
Not all art is for sale. Happily, the country's best collection of paintings is owned by the State and can be viewed and enjoyed free of charge.

In 2014, the National Gallery of Ireland will celebrate its 150th anniversary with a programme of special exhibitions, lectures and ancillary events which will document the history of the gallery which was officially opened to the public on Saturday, January 30th, 1864 by the Earl of Carlisle. That day, the collection comprised just 112 pictures. Today, the collection holds some 15,000 works of art dating from the 13th to the 20th century.

Currently underway, until the end of January, is the annual exhibition of Turner watercolours and, until February 9th, a special exhibition of newly-acquired portraits of prominent public figures.

In May, an exhibition, "Russborough Revisited" (until August 24th) will celebrate two significant donations to the National Gallery from Russborough House, Co Wicklow. The Milltown Gift (1902) and the Beit Gift (1987) which saw art now worth probably hundreds of millions of euro donated by successive owners of the big house in Co Wicklow, the Earl of Milltown and, subsequently, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit.