One art action, three very different women

Whyte’s sale has three notable paintings of women by Orpen, Lavery and O’Conor


The last of the big Dublin autumn art auctions – at Whyte’s on Monday – includes three very different images of women by three of the big names in Irish art: Sir William Orpen, Sir John Lavery and Roderic O’Conor.

A newly discovered work by the artist Sir William Orpen, titled On the Hill of Howth, Co Dublin, is to go under the hammer at Whyte’s art auction at the RDS in Ballsbridge on Monday evening (October 2nd).

The drawing, Lot 35, estimated at €30,000-€50,000, was part of the private art collection of the late Judge Desmond Windle of Sandymount, Dublin, who died in 2014. He received it as a wedding gift from his art collector aunt, Mary “Molly” Matthews. The pencil and watercolour drawing depicts a young woman and dates from circa 1912-1914.

Orpen, one of the best-known Anglo-Irish artists of the early 20th century, was a teacher at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art between 1909 and 1913. Every summer he rented a house, The Cliffs, on Howth Head, where he spent the holidays with his wife Grace, daughters Mary and Christine, and various guests.

Society portraits

He worked throughout each summer and made numerous paintings and drawings of Howth head. It is believed that the girl in this drawing is his daughter Mary who is dressed in a very bohemian style for that era.

A very different – and much more formal – image of an early 20th-century woman is depicted in Lot 41, Portrait of Mary Barron Tottie by Sir John Lavery, dated 1905, and estimated at €30,000- €40,000. Lavery was well-known for his society portraits.

The subject, a Bostonian, who had moved to England and married a wealthy banker, looks like a character from a Henry James novel. She’s dressed in black – for fashion not mourning. In retrospect, her clothing has a prescient quality – nine years after this portrait was painted, both her sons (Oscar William Tottie and Eric Harald Tottie who enlisted) were killed on the same day, September 22nd, 1914, during the very first month of the first World War.

Nudes are a tough sell in the Irish art market – either because the public doesn’t like them or, frequently, the paintings are dreadful. But Roderic O’Conor is considered to be one of the better artists in this genre and Lot 34, Nude Bathing is estimated at €15,000-€20,000.

This painting – which depicts an unnamed French model – dates from the late 1890s when the Roscommon-born painter was living and working in France and influenced by Impressionism. The painting was offered at a Bonhams auction in London last year with an estimate of £50,000-£80,000 (€42.4k-€67.8k), but it failed to sell. The huge drop in its estimated value at Whyte’s may tempt O’Conor admirers.

The auction, with 180 lots of paintings and sculpture, for which viewing is under way from this morning at the RDS, also includes paintings by some other big names in Irish art.

As was the case at Adam’s earlier this week, Paul Henry also provides the top lot at Whyte’s with Lot 21, a classic West of Ireland Bog estimated at €80,000-€100,000. This painting, an oil-on-canvas measuring 14x20 inches, was previously owned by Dr Norah Hamilton, a consultant anaesthetist in Sunderland, England, who probably acquired it in the 1950s in The Combridge Gallery, Dublin. She died in 1961 and left it to a friend and colleague who gave it to the current vendors as a gift.

Spoilt for choice

Sixty years after his death in 1957, admirers of Jack B Yeats are spoilt for choice. After no fewer than five of his oils went under the hammer at Sotheby’s in London this week, Whyte’s is offering Lot 29, Against the Stream, a 1945 oil-on-panel, measuring 9x14 inches, estimated at €60,000- €80,000. It shows a man walking along a riverbank pulling a toy barge in the water along behind him.

This painting last changed hands – also at Whyte’s – in November 2012 when it sold for €53,000. So the higher estimate five years later is a – modest – sign of confidence in the market for Yeats.

Lot 43, Girl Feeding Calves by Walter Frederick Osborne – a Dublin artist who worked in France (and England) in the late 19th century, is estimated at €18,000-€22,000. The vendor only bought it 12 months ago (in Whyte’s auction, September 2016) for €17,000.

Lot 11, The Gardens, Maida Vale, London by William Leech (yet another Irish artist who moved abroad) depicts his locale in London in the 1920s and is estimated at €15,000-€20,000 – nine years after it last sold (at Adam’s in 2008) for €13,000.

There’s also a selection of more contemporary Irish art – including works by Tony O’Malley, William Crozier, John Shinnors – in the €10,000-€15,000 price range and plenty of even more affordable lots by less-well-known artists.

Whyte’s art auction is at 6pm Monday, Oct 2nd, at the RDS Dublin 4. See

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