Paul Henry find: Owner ‘nearly fainted’ when he learned two old ‘prints’ were original paintings

The pair of paintings by the Irish artist, found in a storage unit, will be auctioned

Two recently discovered works said to be by Irish artist Paul Henry will go under the hammer at Caza Sikes auction in Cincinnati on September 8th. The paintings have been in the same family collection since they were originally acquired by Sir Patrick McGovern in the 1920s or 1930s.

McGovern, a native of Blacklion in Co Cavan, migrated to the United States in 1891. He became a celebrated tunnel-building engineer, having begun laying blocks when he first arrived on US soil. His projects included subway routes and aqueducts in Philadelphia, Boston and New York. He financed the renovations of St Patrick's Church in Killinagh outside Blacklion before he died in 1933, and was made a Knight of St Gregory and a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre by Pope Pius XI.

"The owner [McGovern's great grandson] thought they were prints," says Evan Sikes of the auction house, adding "they were the last two items out of the storage unit and he commented that they were worth nothing".

We called the vendor, asked if he was sitting down, and told him what he thought were prints were actually genuine works by a famous Irish artist. He nearly fainted with the news

Sikes and his brother Will recognised the name Paul Henry and took the paintings back to the sale room stopping by the local library for a copy of the artist’s Catalogue Raisonne by biographer Dr SB Kennedy.

It is unclear where McGovern acquired both paintings, but the auction house believes it was either on one of McGovern’s trips to Ireland or at a Paul Henry exhibition in New York. Both works were framed under glass by the now closed New York Madison Avenue framing firm, The Framing Guild, thus preserved from a century of dirt and light exposure.

“They are absolutely pristine as they have been beneath glass since they were purchased and have been in the same family since,” says Sikes. “Along with finding an almost identical setting and composition to Henry’s A Blue Day, in the Catalogue Raisonne [with regards to the untitled work] we contacted experts in auction houses and institutions in Dublin and the United States, and it all pointed to the fact that the paintings are genuine.

“We called the vendor, asked if he was sitting down, and told him what he thought were prints were actually genuine works by a famous Irish artist. He nearly fainted with the news,” recalls Sikes.

It is not the first time that works by Henry have been discovered in the US. Last year, Celtic Cross, A West of Ireland Landscape was purchased at a small auction house in the US for $45,000 (€41,200) and was taken back to Ireland where it sold at a Morgan O’Driscoll sale for €105,000, but there were taxes, insurance and shipping costs between these transactions.

Last year a new world record was set for Henry when A Sunny Day, Connemara made €420,000 through Whyte’s. The painting, which was chosen by Henry for the dustjacket of his autobiography, had been estimated at €150,000-€200,000.

This record was broken again in July 2021 when Mountains and Lake, Connemara achieved £622,500 (€730,199 which includes premium) at the Christie's BJ Eastwood sale.

Caza Sikes has given each work an estimate of $60,000-$80,000 (€51,200-€68,260) which they say is conservative and based on the current climate. Given the recent sales of Henry’s work they may achieve much higher. cazasikes.com

* This article was amended on August 21st, 2021