Many words could describe the art world in 2020, but few are printable.
Abrupt lockdowns threw the industry into unchartered territory with promotions and sales being solely handled online. But despite all the uncertainty, buyers – both international and Irish – are certainly getting more comfortable with online purchasing.
Last year, Francis Bacon’s Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus received the highest value online bid ever recorded, when the under bidder went to $73.1 million (€60.25 million).
Despite the challenges and obstacles thrown up by the pandemic, 2020 also saw combined online-only art sales break through the $1 billon (€.824 billion) mark for the world’s three top auction houses, Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillip’s. And it looks like this trajectory is continuing in 2021.
Irish online art auctions for 2021 have now commenced, and these first sales of the year can be a good time to buy, as many auction rooms offer affordable art works.
Adam's of St Stephen's Green Affordable Online sale, which is currently open for bidding and will end on Wednesday, March 3rd, has a number of works from the late 18th century right up to contemporary pieces. Highlights include names such as Michael Cullen, Janet Mullarkey, Donald Teskey and Diana Copperwhite.
Also included are over 30 works from the collection of Irish artist, the late James Nolan, gathered over his lifetime. Many of the pieces he purchased were from close friends including Fergus O'Ryan, Richard Kingston, Tom Ryan, William Carron and Henry Healy. Nolan was very involved with the Watercolour Society of Ireland, and a great supporter of their annual exhibition, purchasing works by Phoebe Donovan, Berthold Dunne, Wendy Walsh and the former RTÉ presenter Blaithin O'Ciobhain.
From Nolan's collection is Waterville, a watercolour by Berthold Dunne (lot 60, €150-€250); Foxglove, a watercolour by Wendy Walsh (lot 121, €150-€250); and two oils by Owen Walsh: Cityscape with Bridge (lot 124, €300-€400) and Boats (lot 125, €500-€800).
Modern works include a super Charles Brady lithograph Clothes Peg (lot 32, €300-€500); Afterimage, a large acrylic by Bridget Flannery (lot 6, €1,000-€1,500) and to cover a very large wall is lot 24, Untitled by Paul Doran which measures over a metre squared (€1,500-€2,500).
Two works depicting Ulysses also feature: Rudy, an etching by John Kindness is seeking €150-€200 and Charles Cullen's mixed media and print, Ulysses (Paddy Dignam's' Funeral) is listed at €200-€300.
The spring sale at Whyte's of Molesworth Street also caters for those wishing to start a collection. Ending on Monday, March 1st, it features over 260 lots with prices ranging from €60 to a top estimate of €5,000.
For fans of Louis le Brocquy who cannot stretch to an original oil or watercolour, there are eleven lithographs or aquatints priced between €600 and €1,500 including Self Portrait (lot 36, €800-€1,200) and a number of images from his Head series. Also in there is the haunting Image in Darkness (lot 39, €1,000-€1,500).
A number of etchings by the late Irish artist Michael Farrell also feature, some of which are from the time he spent in Paris, most notably lot 73, the dark and interesting Se Noyer dans un Verre, of a body floating in a glass (€250-€350) and the equally intriguing Auvers sur Oise (lot 75, €250-€350).
A superb nude to suit a large space is a signed digital print – from an edition of 50 – Empowerment by Francis O’Toole, which has lovely shadow work (lot 58, €200-€300); and equally large is Francis Tansey’s Archetype Number 4, a bold coloured acrylic that would certainly make a statement in a contemporary setting (lot 86, €800-€1,200).
The sale features a number of landscapes by Peter Collis and John Francis Skelton, and one of the stand out landscapes that may well capture the mood of the nation is Cottages in a Landscape, of a dark stormy night by Lawson Burch (lot 93, €600-€800).
Finally, Cork based auctioneer Morgan O'Driscoll's Irish Art auction, which is currently open for bidding and ends on Monday, March 8th has some lovely works by highly sought after and collectable women artists. Most notable is Mainie Jellett's colourful Abstract Composition (lot 1, €4,000-€6,000) and Study for a Stained Glass Window by Evie Hone (lot 8, €1,500-€2,500).
Also in there is Nude, a full frontal nude lithograph by Pablo Picasso (lot 210, €500-€700) and a contemporary nude oil by Jack Donovan: Nude with Beads (lot 177, €600-€900).
In these difficult times, if you need an excuse to buy a piece of art, it is worth remembering the study by Professor Semir Zeki, a neurologist at University College London. He found after scanning the brains of 30-odd subjects who were shown a selection of paintings, that a work of art can actually have the same psychological effect as the euphoric experience of romantic love.