Anti-modernist Seán Keating would have strong words for non-fungible tokens

Adam’s and Whyte’s art sales both feature paintings by the Limerick-born artist

Limerick-born artist Seán Keating, who died in 1977 aged 88, was often regarded as the official artist of the Irish Free State. The noted portrait painter, who was influenced by both realism and romanticism, had little regard for modern art, and was often outspoken in his rejection against the modern movement. One night as a guest on The Late Late Show, when asked what he thought of a work by renowned Swiss artist Eva Aeppli he replied with vitriol to host Gay Byrne describing the work as "a horrible perversity" and "morose", adding that it was "vengeful against the human race". No doubt if the artist, whose works evoke the courage of his subjects, were alive today, he would have strong words on the new modernism of non-fungible tokens and art created by robots.

Two forthcoming art sales both feature notable works by the outspoken and controversial artist – Whyte's live online auction on Monday, May 31st, and a timed online auction by Adam's of St Stephen's Green, which is open and ends on Wednesday, June 2nd. Along with Paul Henry, Louis le Brocquy and Jack B Yeats, Keating is listed on international art market website as one of the top-selling Irish artists of the past few decades.

An unusual work in Whyte's sale is lot 45, Thinking out Gobnet (sic), listed at €50,000-€70,000. What makes this work important is that it is quite a modern painting – something the artist didn't approve of – and is a portrait of Keating's good friend and fellow artist Harry Clarke. They met at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1911, after William Orpen, who became Keating's mentor, secured a scholarship for the Limerick artist to attend art school. Keating had gifted this work to Clarke and, anxious to be elected to the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA), he borrowed the painting from Clarke for an exhibition in 1918, and was subsequently elected to the academy the following year. The painting last sold through Whyte's in 2018 for €56,000.

Late Late Show

Lot 66 in Adam's sale is one of the artist's later works and is listed at €20,000-€40.000. Segregation, dating from 1972, was painted when Keating was 83, when he returned to the Aran islands after a long hiatus. Gay Byrne held a birthday tribute for Keating on The Late Late Show, and as a result he accepted commissions "after he was invigorated by his renewed popularity", according to Dr Eimear O'Connor, whose book Seán Keating: Art, Politics and Building the Irish Nation is considered to be the definitive work on the painter. What is remarkable about Segregation is the good-natured teasing and bit of flirtation between the three women and the solitary man, in contrast to the artist's more sombre oeuvre. Whyte's also lists Keating's more pensive Self Portrait Wearing a Hat, from the 1940s, which was part of the Bank of Ireland Collection (lot 46, €30,000-€50,000).

More of Keating's influence can be found in Patrick Leonard's lively and engaging Loughshinny Harbour, Co Dublin (lot 51, €12,000-€18,000 Whyte's). In 1944, Keating opened Leonard's first solo exhibition at the Waddington Gallery, Dublin, which was a prestigious venue given that the gallery was the dealer for Jack B Yeats. Ever controversial, Keating used the occasion to "rail against 'subjectivity' in art, and the modernist style", according to Dr Kathryn Milligan.

Curiosities in Whyte's sale include two prints by Nobel laureate and singer Bob Dylan, who was congratulated this week on his 80th birthday by President Michael D Higgins.

Jack B Yeats

Highlights in Adam's sale include an early Jack B Yeats that was once owned by the late Guinness heir Garech Browne of Luggala. In a Dublin Waxworks (lot 40, €60,000-€100,000), from 1912, depicts a raggedy-dressed youth intently staring at a waxen figure of Marcus Anthony, who died by suicide in 30 BC. Paul Henry's landscape Cottages in Achill (lot 60, €140,000-€160,000) and Walter Frederick Osborne's Her Garden (lot 22, €80,000-€120,000) also feature alongside works by John Shinnors, Hughie O'Donoghue, Norah McGuinness and Camille Souter.

In other news of interest to lovers of art, antiques and heritage, the Office of Public Works has announced that all of its sites open to the public, including Neolithic tombs at Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth and Loughcrew; medieval castles at Trim and Cahir; and stately homes such as Castletown House in Celbridge, Doneraile Court in Cork, and Emo Court in Laois, will be free of charge until December 31st, 2021. The promotion aims to support domestic tourism and local businesses. Some of the attractions will need to be booked either online, by phone or email.

To celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, an exhibition of 100 lithographs by Liam O'Broin of his interpretation of The Divine Comedy is also now open at Dublin Castle.