Irish art works from Michael Smurfit’s collection for auction at Sotheby’s

Retired businessman says climate of Spanish home not suited to works of Irish artists

It's been some week in the world of fine art auctions. In the space of just six days, from November 9th to 15th, Christie's New York achieved in excess of a billion dollars during their Marquee week sale, at which 31 new artist records were set, with Jean-Michel Basquiat's monumental canvas The Guilt of Gold Teeth achieving $40 million (€35 million). But perhaps more interestingly Michael Winkelmann, under his pseudonym Beeple, achieved almost $30 million (€27 million) for his Human One, "a kinetic video sculpture with a corresponding dynamic NFT [non-fungible token]". He's had some year – considering he has just turned 40 – as two of his works have achieved a combined $99 million (€88 million) in the space of eight months.

Later, on November 15th, Sotheby's achieved a white glove result for the Macklowe Collection, where every lot not only sold, but four works achieved more than $50 million (€44 million) each, in a sale that exceeded $676 million (€598 million) in total. Not bad for a single owner collection – albeit owned by the now divorced couple, Harry and Linda Macklowe, who could not agree on the value of their art trove, so a judge ordered it be auctioned off. Bidders signed up from 25 countries and most of the top lots including Alberto Giacometti's Le Nez, which sold for more than $78 million (€69 million), were purchased by buyers registered in Asia.

Michael Smurfit

Currently open and ending on November 23rd is Sotheby's annual sale of Irish art. A number of pieces are from the collection of Michael Smurfit, many of which graced the walls of the K Club. In an interview with the auction house, Smurfit admits he saw value in collecting good art "and the best pieces possible". Now based in his 5,100sq m (55,000sq ft) home in Marbella, the retired businessman says the Spanish climate and atmosphere is just not suited to works of Irish artists, painted in a cold climate.

The selection is impressive, and along with Sotheby's Modern British and Irish Art Sale on November 23rd, there are 10 Jack B Yeats offerings, from smaller watercolours priced at €948-€1,422 and three medium oils: Engravings (€59,230-€82,921); Boat Builder and the superb Face of Victory (both €82,921-€118,459), to A Welcome (€177,678-€296,129); A Nor' Western Town (€414,581-€651,484) and South Pacific (€236,866-€355,299).


For fans of William Orpen, the sale has three works including a lovely portrait of the artist's wife, Grace by Candlelight (€59,230-€82,921). Sir John Lavery makes four appearances with scenes of penance at Lough Derg, the Spanish Coastline and two lovely portraits: Mrs Adam at Dinner and Portrait of Mrs Charles Barker (both €82,921-€118,459). From the collection of Joseph Stephen Cullinan, a pioneer in the oil industry and civic champion in the United States in the early 20th century, is an unusual Paul Henry – The Great Blasket Island, Kerry (€59,230-€94,767). It was executed in 1934, when Henry visited Co Kerry with Mabel Young. Cullinan purchased a number of Irish works including another superb example by Henry (lot 12, West of Ireland Landscape €142,142-€213,213) which features in the Modern British and Irish Art Sale.

Contemporary offerings

Contemporary offerings from the Irish Art Sale are Ink Sky Bindu Bowl by Grainne Watts, a mesmerising ceramic from 2020 (€3,554-€5,923) and an incredible piece of photorealism by Gottfried Helnwein, the Austrian-Irish visual artist based in Castle Gurteen de la Poer in Co Waterford. Red Sleep 24 (€47,394-€71,091) is subdued under a crimson wash and you could easily walk by thinking that it was just a red block of colour but closer examination reveals the face of a child. It is so lifelike, there were many "oohs" and "aahs" from viewers when it was on exhibition last week at the Royal Hibernian Academy, when people discovered it was actually a painting. Louis le Brocquy, John Behan, Daniel O'Neill, Roderic O'Conor and a mammoth installation Double Portrait by Patrick Swift also feature in the sale. In total, the Irish sale is expected to achieve between €3 million and €4.6 million.

Meanwhile, the current art sale of Dolan’s auction house in Galway is open online, with more than 250 lots, and ends on November 29th.

Of interest is a pen and ink drawing by Sir William Orpen. The Roscommon Fusilier depicts a young woman, hand on hip clad in a military uniform sketched on Metropolitan School of Art of Kildare Street paper, where Orpen taught in the early years of the 20th century. The sitter was Vera Hone, and this, according to Niall Dolan of the auction house, is one of the artist's most recognisable works (€10,000-€12,500). Indeed, Hone not alone was his favourite model, she posed for so many paintings that Orpen numbered them rather than giving them titles.

A fabulous piece is Na Fir Ón Oiléan, which is an exceptional study in charcoal by Sean Keating, in which two island men are in the throes of a heated discussion. It is a sizeable drawing and the top lot in Dolan's sale, listed with a €16,000-€20,000 estimate.