Paul Henry landscape with a political pedigree

‘A Connemara Village’ by Paul Henry, valued at up to €100,000, sold for £85 in the 1930s

A Connemara Village was first exhibited by the Fine Art Society, New Bond Street, London, in April 1934 and then, in November 1937, at Combridge’s Gallery in Dublin where former taoiseach John A Costello is understood to have bought it for £85.

A Connemara Village was first exhibited by the Fine Art Society, New Bond Street, London, in April 1934 and then, in November 1937, at Combridge’s Gallery in Dublin where former taoiseach John A Costello is understood to have bought it for £85.

 

A painting of a west of Ireland landscape owned by a former Fine Gael taoiseach, the late John A Costello ,has come to light and will be sold at auction next month. A Connemara Village by Paul Henry is among the highlights in the auction of Important Irish Art in Adam’s auctioneers, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, on March 23rd.

James O’Halloran, the managing director of Adam’s said the oil-on-board painting, that measures 14x15¾ inches and dates from the 1930s, has “never been on the open market before”.

Although Adam’s did not name the vendor, it is understood to be a family descendant of the late taoiseach as it has been “in the family of John A. Costello, Taoiseach, since it was painted”. The estimate is €70,000-€100,000.

Costello (1891-1976) served as taoiseach between 1948-1951 and from 1954-1957. He was a member of the Fine Gael but not leader of the party – and was, instead, chosen as a compromise candidate by the “inter-party” government, as both coalitions were known.

Costello was married to Ida Mary O’Malley and they had four sons and a daughter. He died in 1976. His son Declan Costello was a Fine Gael TD for 20 years, attorney general from 1973-1977 and president of the High Court from 1995-1998. He died in 2011.

A Connemara Village was first exhibited by the Fine Art Society, New Bond Street, London, in April 1934 and then at Combridge’s Gallery in Dublin in November 1937, where Costello is understood to have bought it for £85.

Henry paintings are also a favourite of Taoiseach Enda Kenny. During s televised address to the nation in December 2011, Kenny sat beneath In the West of Ireland’, a landscape painting by Henry from the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland on loan to his office in government buildings.

Henry (1877-1958) is one of Ireland’s best-known artists. He lived for a decade during the early 20th century on Achill Island and is most famous for his landscapes of Connemara.

Some of his paintings are in the National Gallery and other museums and gallerie,; but many are in private collections and often appear at auction where they routinely sell for tens of thousands of euro.

The highest price yet paid for one of his paintings was in May 2013, when Potato Diggers, a large canvas of a man and woman digging in a west of Ireland landscape, made €400,000 at Adam’s.

In a catalogue note for the auction, Dr S.B Kennedy, an expert on the artist, said: “A Connemara Village represents Paul Henry at the height of his powers.”

The painting depicts depicted a landscape that “had remained unchanged for generations” – cottages with their turf stacks, a lake with its reflections mirroring the the sky, a distant mountain and the upper half of the painting “given to the sky, with its gentle, but developing, cumulous clouds, which are precisely modelled and which as yet don’t threaten rain”.

“Throughout,” Dr Kennedy added, “the brushwork retains the clarity that Henry learned in Paris with Whistler at the fin de siècle, the clouds being crisply but clearly delineated, the cottages themselves set down apparently with a minimum of effort, while the brushwork in the foreground is perfectly descriptive of the nature of the terrain.

“Priced at €85 in Combridge’s Gallery in 1937, A Connemara Village was one of the most expensive pictures in the exhibition and hence highly thought of by Henry at that time.”

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