How to build a pension pot from art

Collection proved a nice earner for owners when it was leased to Four Seasons hotel

Dublin art auctioneer John de Vere White recalls that 20 years ago he was "reaching a stage in life where the phrase 'pension planning' was being bandied around by trusted advisors". He had "a modest pension under way" but didn't find the stock market appealing. Casting around for an alternative investment, he did what many of his clients do and invested in art. He said he persuaded his business partner Barry Smyth to invest some of their income in art and began assembling a collection. Unlike stocks and shares, art doesn't pay a dividend and there's no financial gain unless there's capital appreciation when (or, more frequently, if), it is sold for a higher amount than the purchase price. But de Vere White and Smyth were lucky. They managed a rare feat – to squeeze an annual income from their art collection.

Once they had assembled their “nest egg collection” of paintings, the question arose of where to hang them. By chance, they heard that the Four Seasons Hotel in Ballsbridge was looking for art to decorate the hotel’s public space and the pair struck a deal to lease the collection to the hotel for an undisclosed fee. Now the arrangement has come to an end as the hotel has transferred to new management and been renamed the Dublin InterContinental.

De Vere White said that following the ending of the agreement, he and Smyth "now believe the time is right to put the collection on the market". And, not surprisingly, the collection will be sold by his own firm de Veres on Tuesday (November 22nd). He will not be on the rostrum for the sale of the collection and will pass the hammer to his colleague and fellow-auctioneer, Rory Guthrie.

So what’s in the collection?


The paintings are grouped together in the catalogue for the auction as Lots 32-54. The top lot, is Lot 34, a pastel-on-paper titled 1.6.92 [presumably the date it was painted] by the Dublin-born American artist Sean Scully estimated at €150,000-€250,000. De Vere White recalls a trip to London's Timothy Taylor Gallery to buy a painting for a client when he saw 1.6.92 on the floor. He said: "I couldn't really understand the picture but I just knew it had real presence and although the price represented a lot of our savings I took the plunge and bought it."

Lot 35 Gull Goes West by John Shinnors (estimated at €20,000-€30,000) was acquired at the RHA Annual Exhibition in 1999 as, according to de Vere White "several people had expressed the view that Shinnors was a rising star" and he was "bowled over by this particular painting". Reputedly, Shinnors "had an experience driving home from the Wexford car ferry on a filthy night when a seagull flew into his windscreen and put him in the ditch hence the inspiration for this particular painting". Other works in the "Four Seasons collection" include paintings by Martin Gale, Charles Brady, Tony O'Malley, Barrie Cooke and Hughie O'Donoghue and they are on view from Saturday, November 19th at the Royal Hibernian Gallery in Ely Place Dublin 2 where the auction takes place on Tuesday, November 22nd at 6pm.

Other lots

But there's a lot more in this auction of more than 170 lots. Lot 31, Waiting by Leo Whelan, by the Dublin artist who died in 1956 is an oil-on-canvas dating from 1919, when it was exhibited in Dublin (serendipitously also at the RHA) and was priced at £105. The painting depicts a girl dressed in a red hat and coat with white gloves sitting in a tiled hallway – as if waiting to be called to an interview of some kind despite being accompanied by a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. The sitter has been identified as Mollie O'Sullivan from Iona Road, Glasnevin, whose mother was a friend of the artist's two sisters. The venue for the painting was the artist's studio at 64 Dawson Street, Dublin which had flooring covered with black and white ceramic tiles as shown in the painting. If the image looks vaguely familiar that's because the painting was in the news in 2007 when it sold – also at de Veres – for €265,000, a record price for the artist and the very peak of the assets bubble which burst a year later when the economy crashed. Now, nine years later, Waiting by Leo Whelan is back on the market with an estimate of €60,000-€90,000. Ouch. Which proves that art is not a sure-fire "pension fund" after all.

The catalogue is online at