Irish art has weak restart at Sotheby’s annual sale in London

Paintings by Sir John Lavery, Jack B Yeats and Walter Osborne all do well

Sotheby’s much-anticipated Irish art sale in London on Wednesday afternoon didn’t quite live up to expectations, with 26 of the 71 lots remaining unsold .

Six of the top 10 paintings failed to sell including Nude Girl Reading and View From Howth, both by Sir William Orpen; Woman With Violin by Roderic O'Conor; and Alice On Sultan, Tangier by Sir John Lavery.

Despite these casualties and the generally modest prices achieved for the lots that sold, Sotheby’s said afterwards that the Irish sale – cancelled during the recession – was back to stay and would take place again in 2016.

Among the bright spots, the top lot was Japanese Switzerland by Lavery, which sold for £509,000 (about €693,000) at the top end of its estimate (£300,000-£500,000).


Other sellers included The Talkers by Jack B Yeats, which sold for £209,000 (£150,000-£250,000); In The West Of Ireland by Paul Henry, which sold for £63,750 (£40,000-£60,000); Hastings Railway Station by Walter Osborne, which sold for £62,500 (£60,000-£100,000); and Foinavon by Basil Blackshaw, which sold for £23,750 (£18,000-£25,000).

The biggest surprise of the day was the price paid for a bronze sculpture (pictured) by Rowan Gillespie titled When Hope and Reason Rhyme which sold for £161,000 (about €219,000) – more than five times the top estimate of £30,000.

Sotheby’s said this “unique piece”, which is over 11 feet tall, was “the artist’s personal tribute to Seamus Heaney” and “was inspired by the poet’s words which are engraved on the plinth”.

The price is a record at auction for Gillespie, who is best known for Aspiration, his bronze sculpture of a naked woman climbing the wall of the Nama building on Grand Canal Street in Dublin 2.