Mrs Lewisohn and Sir William Orpen are reunited in Dublin

Artist’s self-portrait and 1915 painting of Edwardian beauty in Adam’s auction


“Some of the finest work by some of Ireland’s best artists, to appear at auction in some years” is how managing director of Adam’s James O’Halloran describes the last major Irish art auction of 2016 – Important Irish Art and Irish Historical Documents – which takes place on Wednesday.

Viewing begins this afternoon at the St Stephen’s Green saleroom.

Lot 33, by Sir William Orpen, is the stunning Portrait of Mrs Oscar Lewisohn, formerly Miss Edna May painted 101 years ago and estimated at €80,000-€120,000.

Orpen, who was born in Stillorgan, Co Dublin achieved great renown as a portrait painter in London and this painting is likely to attract much interest – and many admirers – at the viewing.

But if it seems vaguely familiar, that’s because it’s not the first time it has been on view in the city recently.

Two years ago, it was displayed at Sotheby’s on Molesworth Street before appearing as the top lot in the Sotheby’s British and Irish Art sale in London in 2014, with an estimate of £120,000-£180,000 (at the then exchange rate €146,000- €218,000) – where, surprisingly, it failed to sell.

Now it’s back on the block again at Adam’s with a lower estimate.

But who was Mrs Oscar Lewisohn, formerly Miss Edna May?

Daughter of a postman

American-born Edna May was the daughter of a postman who became a major star, first on Broadway and then on the London Edwardian stage.

In 1907, she married Oscar Lewisohn, a New York banker, and retired from the stage. She outlived her husband by 30 years and died in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1948.

By happy coincidence, and a twist of fate, both Mrs Lewisohn and Orpen are reunited in this auction.

Lot 32, consisting of Self-Portrait (1912) by Orpen, which also features on the catalogue cover, is estimated at €100,000-€150,000.

It was formerly in the corporate collection of paper products company, the Jefferson Smurfit Group [now the Smurfit Kappa company], which was sold off in London at Sotheby’s in 1996.

And Lot 76, a large watercolour by the artist dating from 1911, titled Sheep and Goats, Figures on a Cliff at Howth – which was last seen in public at the 2005 exhibition in London and Dublin called William Orpen: Politics, Sex and Death – is estimated €40,000-€60,000.

Rarely exhibited

The highest estimated work in the auction is Lot 45, Glory to the Brave Singer by Jack B Yeats (€250,000-€350,000) – an oil-on-canvas measuring 24 by 36 inches, exhibited at the RHA Annual Exhibition in 1951 and last sold through the Waddington Galleries, London in 1971.

According to a catalogue note by Dr Róisín Kennedy “it has rarely been exhibited in public since becoming part of a private collection” and “belongs firmly with the other great epic paintings of Yeats’s late works”.

Like many of these paintings, it’s not immediately obvious what the painting depicts but, according to Dr Kennedy, it shows “a woman reclining in the landscape. She raises herself from the ground and extends her right arm in an exaggerated manner. She points towards a songbird which stands on the topmost branch of a tree, its neck extended and its beak open skywards as it fills the air with its music.”

Other Yeats oil paintings in include: Lot 46, Man Hearing an Old Song (€40,000-€60,000); and Lot 48, The False Morning Promise (€25,000- €35,000).

Collectors who prefer the artist’s earlier representational work, as opposed to his later “abstract expressionism”, might prefer his watercolour, in Lot 71, A Sidewalk of New York.

It was painted circa 1911 and depicts an unidentified Manhattan location drawn from recollections of a visit made by Yeats to New York in 1904 with his wife Cottie (€30,000-€50,000).

No major Irish art auction seems complete without Paul Henry and Adam’s is offering Lot 37, Cottages (€60,000-€80,000) which was last sold at Christie’s in 2006; and Lot 31, Connemara Landscape with Cottages (€40,000-€60,000).

Best female artist

The auction includes four paintings by Patrick Hennessy who was the subject of the exhibition at IMMA this summer (Patrick Hennessy: De Profundis) including Lot 42, a large oil-on-canvas titled The Bronze Horses of Saint Mark’s – a 1953 painting of Venice – estimated at €15,000-€420,000.

There are seven watercolours in the sale by Mildred Anne Butler, one of Ireland’s best female artists who died in 1941, including Lot 64, Pot Luck – showing a crow drinking from a discarded cooking pot.

This was priced at 25 pounds when it was exhibited at the Watercolour Society of Ireland’s Annual Exhibition in 1899 and is now estimated at €10,000-€15,000.

For the full catalogue and online bidding details, visit

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