Horses, drink and ‘tinkers’: Images of Ireland for sale

Paintings of Ireland at de Veres auction include work by Basil Blackshaw and Jack B Yeats

Appropriately timed to coincide with the week of St Patrick's Day, de Veres art auctioneers in Dublin is launching a sale of "quintessentially Irish" paintings. Inevitably, many of the images are cliched – horses, drink, west-of-Ireland landscapes, fishing boats, hunting and various "characters" – but these are the images of Ireland that sell.

Auctioneer Rory Guthrie says the pictures showed "the fishermen and women of the West of Ireland, the tinker, the white Connemara mare and the pint of plain" and quotes a verse from Flann O'Brien: "When money's tight and hard to get / And your horse has also ran / When all you have is a heap of debt / A pint of plain is your only man."

Evicted family

While Irish artists have always drawn inspiration from the country's people and landscapes, visiting artists have also been intrigued. The Victorian Scottish artist Erskine Nicol spent four years in Ireland during the Great Famine and is perhaps best known for An Ejected Family, his depiction of an evicted family that is now in the National Gallery of Ireland.

Nicol painted numerous images of the Irish peasantry and one of the most striking is the self-explanatory Guinness' Best, which is Lot 78 at de Veres with an estimate of €3,000-€5,000. It dates from 1857 and has been consigned to the auction after being stored for years in bubble-wrap in a Dublin attic.


A very different Irish character emerges in a late-20th century depiction of a Traveller by the Northern Ireland artist Basil Blackshaw, who died last year. Head of a Traveller V (Fat Bob), dated 1984, is estimated at €15,000-€20,000. It's from a series the artist made of Travellers, and de Veres says, "Blackshaw knew the sitters in this series intimately. He drank with them, he communed with them, they were Irish characters he wanted to record in paint."

Fishing communities

Very traditional images of the west-of-Ireland fishing communities are depicted in Seafarers by Meriel Lambart Barrett (€6,000-€9,000) and Figures, Connemara Harbour by Charles Vincent Lamb (€15,000-€20,000).

Inevitably, horses feature strongly, most notably in two pictures, Connemara Mare by Patrick Hennessy, depicting a wild Connemara pony, estimated at €10,000-€15,000, and Out Hunting by Peter Curling (€5,000-€7,000).

The most expensive is a Jack B Yeats painting – with many shades of green – entitled From the Woods Shadow, estimated at €80,000-€120,000, which depicts a barefoot boy wandering through the Phoenix Park. The provenance of the painting encapsulates many strands of Irish life. It hung in Yeats's studio until his death in 1957 and was thereafter acquired privately by Mr and Mrs Frank Vickerman, English friends of the artist. Vickerman, a wealthy Bradford wool merchant, and his wife Constance owned racehorses and were regular visitors to Ireland where they also bought art.

Love of horses

According to de Veres, Frank Vickerman’s love of horses contributed to their art collection very directly because “if he won with his horses he often used to go and buy a Yeats, and luckily, he won rather a lot” – including the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in three consecutive years (1948-50) with Cottage Rake, trained by the then up-and-coming Vincent O’Brien. The Vickermans bought no fewer than 30 Yeats paintings from the Victor Waddington Gallery in Dublin.

In 1978, they donated one – a horse painting entitled For the Road – to the National Gallery of Ireland and, years later, some others were sold by their heirs at Sotheby's in London in 1999, including The Wild Ones, which made €1.2 million – the highest price ever paid for a painting by Jack B Yeats.

Although the auction does not take place until April 3rd, de Veres is hoping to draw interest from visitors to the St Patrick’s Day Festival in Dublin, and the paintings will go on view in 35 Kildare Street – opposite Leinster House – from Monday March 13th.