Clouds, rain and brilliant sunshine - Adam's summer sale has it all
Land and seascapes show the Irish weather in all its unpredictable glory
Lot 33, Norah McGuinness, The Liffey
We like to latch on to the names of paintings even though they’re sometimes slightly “off”; we should really refer to the Mona Lisa as La Gioconda, and the Laughing Cavalier isn’t actually laughing.
In centuries past, many artists simply didn’t bother much with titles, so scholarly research often demands a spot of titular tweaking – which is why two of the most significant Irish paintings at Adam’s Important Irish Art sale in Dublin this week (May 30th), Walter Osborne’s Counting the Flock (Lot 32, €100,000–€150,000) and Paul Henry’s A Bog Pool in Wicklow, (Lot 43, €35,000–€45,000) are coming under the hammer for the first time under new names.
“The frame of the Paul Henry painting has a label which says Sunset in the Mourne Mountains,” says James O’Halloran of Adam’s. “But as we discovered when we took it out of the frame for cleaning and found another label on the back, it’s actually a Wicklow scene.”
Henry expert Dr SB Kennedy confirms the location in a catalogue note. And a note by Julian Campbell sorts out the various shepherds – and, indeed, sheep – portrayed by Walter Osborne in the mid-1880s. Despite being sold twice as The Return of the Flock, this painting should in fact be called Counting the Flock.
Will the change of name affect the price these paintings make on auction day? Nobody knows.
But at a time of year when we’re all keen to commune with the natural world as much as possible, both artists present landscapes of seductive beauty. Henry’s scene will be familiar to anyone who has walked the Wicklow hills; a line of soft grey peaks with a foreground of dark scrub broken by a spreading pool of bog-water.
The Osborne, meanwhile, exudes an almost preternatural stillness. The painter was fascinated by wide horizons and big skies, but he was also attracted to landscapes with domestic animals or farming scenes.
“His treatment of the area around the shepherd’s feet, with its sprinkling of flowers, especially the red poppies, is just exquisite,” says O’Halloran.
There are landscapes to appeal to every taste in this sale, and they feature Irish weather in all its unpredictable glory.
Frank McKelvey’s A Glimpse of Lough Neagh (Lot 23, €8,000–€12,000) is a traditional expansive vista which, when it was first exhibited at the RHA annual exhibition in Dublin in 1947, carried a price tag of £160 – a huge sum at the time.
More recently it’s Louis le Brocquy who has been commanding high prices; the hills on the horizon of his watercolour Wicklow Landscape (Lot 36, €6,000–€8,000) shimmer as a sudden shower blows in. The azure blue of the sea in Charles Vincent Lamb’s Connemara With Cottages (Lot 21, €3,000–€5,000) would put anyone into holiday mood.
The tones of Maurice MacGonigal’s Connemara Hookers (Lot 19, €5,000–€7,000) are cooler and greyer – but the water looks just as inviting.
Two views of Roundstone, Co Galway illustrate two very different styles of the Lurgan-born painter Cecil Maguire. Early One Morning, Roundstone (Lot 15, €4,000–€6,000), painted in 1994, shows a crystalline dawn light falling on the harbour and the side of Errisbeg, while the more impressionistic Blackhaven, Inishnee (Lot 14, €1,500–€2,000) employs a considerably darker palette.
Born in the Ukraine of German parents, Paul Nietsche is closely associated with Belfast, where he lectured at Queen’s University for many years – but his Villeneuve-les-Avignon (Lot 28, €3,000–€5,000) is suffused with the golden light of the south of France.
The joyous blues and reds of Belfast-born Colin Middleton’s surrealist-influenced Red Landscape (Lot 60, €8,000–€12,000) are as uplifting as they are mysterious; his evocative Belfast Street With Children (Lot 59, €18,000–€25,000) is much a much more sombre picture, painted as it was towards the end of the second World War, when large swathes of the city had been destroyed by German bombers.
In Dublin, women painters were carrying the banner for modernism, most notably Mainie Jellett, whose Abstract Composition was way ahead of its time in 1925 (Lot 47, €20,000–€30,000), but also Evie Hone (Study for Stained Glass, Lot 48, €1,500–€2,000) and Mary Swanzy (Shipwrecked Figures By A Shore, Lot 52, €1,000–€1,500).
There are also two scenes by Norah McGuinness in the sale, The Liffey (main photo), Lot 33, €10,000–€15,000 and Figures On A Path, Lot 34, €8,000–€10,000).
“Dublin in the 1940s was still very conservative and yet she was painting these very modern scenes in lively colours,” says O’Halloran. McGuinness’s view of the Liffey is so fresh it could have been painted yesterday, with its two carefree, stylish young women having fun with seagulls and swans.
There are other attractive images of city life in the sale. A child tries on a hat in New York in Jack B Yeats’s The Belle of Chinatown (Lot 66, €80,000–€120,000). Sir John Lavery’s Evening on the House Top, Tangier (Lot 75, €25,000–€35,000) offers a view of the “white city” overlooking the straits of Gibraltar.
Contemporary Irish artists are well represented, among them Liam Belton’s still life Moonlight and Rushlight (Lot 96, €5,000–€7,000) Stephen Loughman’s Voices (Lot 95, €1,000–€2,000), and three interior scenes by Neil Shawcross, including Flowers in a Vase (Lot 86, €1,500–€2,000).
We began by talking about the names of paintings and, if Charles Brady’s White Box (Lot 89, €1,200–€1,800) is self-explanatory, Charles Tyrrell’s C3.09 (Lot 83, €3,000–€5,000) gives little indication of what to expect from his elegant abstract. Geraldine O’Neill’s gigantic, colour-saturated Holy Mary And The Chewing Gum Machine (Lot 93, €3,000–€5,000) also looks set to be a talking-point.
But the award for most accurate title in this sale surely goes to Basil Blackshaw, whose series of three drawings in graphite, charcoal and white conte pencil depict – with breathtaking energy – a horse and rider coming a cropper during a steeplechase. The work (Lot 64, €15,000–€25,000) is called – no prizes for guessing this one – The Fall Triptych.