Fine collection owned by Dev’s doc goes under the hammer

Dr Bryan Alton was physician to de Valera and Haughey and a well-known collector


The first big auction of the autumn season in Dublin will feature a collection of art and antiques owned by the personal physician to Éamon de Valera and Charles Haughey.

Dr Bryan Alton, a consultant physician at the Mater Hospital, died in 1991. The collection remained in the ownership of his wife Winifred (née Tempany) until her death last year and is now being sold by the family. Dr Alton and his wife were well-known collectors who bought from auctioneers and dealers in Ireland and overseas. Over 300 items including furniture, porcelain, silver, objets d’art, old master and modern paintings, religious icons and various collectibles that they acquired from the late 1940s to the 1970s will go under the hammer at Adam’s saleroom in St Stephen’s on Tuesday September 6th.

Dr Alton was personal physician to the late president Éamon de Valera and was also an elected member of Seanad Éireann (for the NUI panel 1965-1973). According to the catalogue notes: “When de Valera retired in 1973, the new president Erskine Childers naturally had his own doctor, but Bryan was at a dinner in 1974 where the president had a massive heart attack and it was he who attended to him and went with him to the hospital.”

In the 1980s, Dr Alton was personal physician to taoiseach Charles Haughey. He also served on the board of Ansbacher Bank.

‘Boundless energy’[/CROSSHEAD] James O’Halloran of Adam’s, says Dr Alton “was a man of boundless energy and formidable intellect, a philanthropist and family man.” He had served as president of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and also as master warden of the Corporation of Goldsmiths and on the board of the National Gallery of Ireland.

Dr Alton began buying porcelain from an antiques dealer, Henry Naylor in Liffey Street, while still a medical student in Dublin.

Over one-third of the lots in the auction are pieces of silver and among the highlights are Lot 11, a fine set of four Irish Georgian silver table candlesticks, made in Dublin by Michael Cormick and William Townsend circa 1760, which are estimated at €12,000-€14,000; and Lot 17, six Georgian silver boat- shaped salts [salt cellars] by John Young of London, which date to 1790/92 and are estimated at €1,500-€2,000.

Some of the 20th-century silver pieces were gifts, including Lot 8, a silver salver, weighing 750g, hallmarked Birmingham 1937, and inscribed: “Presented to Bryan G Alton by Sisters of Mercy, Mater Misericordiae Hospital, March 1982” (€400-€600); and Lot 13, “a large cigar box hallmarked for London 1959” given to Dr Alton by president and Mrs de Valera (€500-€800).

While the collection includes a few pieces of modern art, Adam’s said: “Old Master paintings were where Dr Alton’s passion lay,” and he “purchased many fine works from international art dealers”. Among the highlights are Lot 168, a 1661 painting by Utrecht artist Joost Cornelius Droogsloot depicting a group of figures on a bridge outside a village and described as “a fine example of work from the golden age of Dutch painting” (€8,000-€12,000); and Lot 235, a mountainous landscape with horse and rider by Flemish painter Marten Ryckaert (1587-1631) which is estimated at €10,000-€15,000.

Lot 193, View of Tintern Abbey, Co Wexford by Dublin Liberties-born artist George Barret (1732-1784), is described as “an Irish Old Master” and depicts the ruins of the Cistercian monastery at Bannow Bay (€8,000-€10,000).

Passion for porcelain[/CROSSHEAD] Adam’s says porcelain was another of Dr Alton’s passions and the sale includes some remarkable pieces of 18th-century Meissen, most notably Lot 200, the 16cm high ‘Indiscreet Harlequin’ which depicts a scene from the Commedia dell’ Arte as modelled by JJ Kandler estimated at €25,000-€35,000 .

Amongst the furniture, Lot 169 is described as “a spectacular George III inlaid and painted sycamore bowfront side cabinet, fashioned in the manner of London cabinet-makers Mayhew and Ince, the quality of the manufacturing and decoration being of the highest level” (€15,000-€20,000); and Lot 223, “a wonderful pair of George III inlaid mahogany diningroom pedestals and urn, after a design by Gillows”, estimated at €5,000-€20,000.

A selection of Middle-Eastern and Mughal [Indian] miniature artworks includes Lot 180, an oil-on-ivory view of the court of the Mughal Emperor Aldwar Shah II at Delhi c.1820, “where a long-haired prince is being tried over his discharging a pistol at the British resident at Delhi, Sir Charles Metcalfe” (€6,000-€8,000) .

Among the Russian and Greek Orthodox religious icons is Lot 280, “A Cretan 18th-century timber icon depicting St George and the Dragon (€1,000-€1,500).

Fans of Art Déco will be interested in Lot 125, a bronze and ivory figure of The Turbaned Dancer by French sculptor Paul Philippe, estimated at €3,000-€5,000.

The Alton Collection goes on view at Adam’s, 26 St Stephen’s Green, from Thursday, September 1st.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection


Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.