Pied Piper worth following in Adam’s spring sale

Rare Victorian watercolour stands out but star lot likely to be a classic Paul Henry

Paintings by the Victorian artist Richard Doyle are, according to Adam’s auctioneers, “remarkably rare” but there’s a large watercolour by him in Adam’s forthcoming art auction in Dublin on Tuesday (March 27th). But was he Irish and is it important? Well, up to a point – on both fronts.

Richard Doyle, the son of the Irish cartoonist John Doyle, was born in London in 1824 and died in 1883. He was one of the best-known illustrators of the Victorian era. He worked for Punch magazine but was most famous as an illustrator of children's books. His The Pied Piper of Hamelin, first exhibited in London in 1885, is lot 57 in the auction.

The watercolour (50cm by 75cm) is estimated at €10,000-€15,000 and depicts the German folktale of the piper and his attempt to clear the town of a plague of rats. In the story, the Pied Piper is hired by the mayor of Hamelin – a town on the Weser river in Lower Saxony – to lure the rats away with his magical instrument, in return for payment. However, when he has accomplished his task, the mayor reneges on their agreement. There are various versions of the tale with different endings. In some, the piper takes revenge on the town by luring the children to the river where they drown. In others, he leads them to the beautiful Koppenberg mountain. In this more pleasant account, once the debt has been paid, he returns all of the children unharmed. Doyle has opted to portray the point in the story where the piper is leading all of the town’s transfixed children away.

It’s one of 123 lots in Adam’s where viewing is underway this weekend. Regular auction goers should note that the auction is on Tuesday evening at 6pm – and not the usual Wednesday. Despite the title of the auction, there’s no major blockbuster on offer – confirming the ongoing shortage of top-quality paintings in the Irish art market. Adam’s said its auctions “are put together in a short period of time and the composition of these collections is entirely dependent on what our private vendors consign to us”.

Top lot

Only one lot has an estimate higher than €40,000 – and is, almost inevitably, a Paul Henry. Lot 23, Looking Towards Achill from the East of Achill Sound is an oil-on-board, circa 1925, estimated at €40,000-€60,000. The provenance is described as a "private UK collection". It's a view of Slievemore mountain and while there's really not much more that can be said about Henry, according to a catalogue note by Dr SB Kennedy: "The fragility of man's survival in the face of the powers of nature, which made such an impact on Henry's perceptions of the island, are clear to be seen in this striking picture."

Following the death of the artist – in her 100th year – last month, there's likely to be some interest in lot 7, Mother and Child by Gladys Maccabe (€1,000- €1,500). It was shown in the "Irish Exhibition of Living Art", 70 years ago. Maccabe was born in Randalstown, Co Antrim in June 1918 and died on February 22nd, 2018. She was one of the very few Northern Ireland women artists to achieve any success in the 20th century among a group dominated by Daniel O'Neill, George Campbell, Colin Middleton, Basil Blackshaw, Gerard Dillon, Frank McKelvey and William Conor. She studied art in Belfast, founded the Ulster Society of Women Artists in 1957, and her paintings are in the permanent collections of the Ulster Museum, the Royal Ulster Academy, the Arts Council of Ireland, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the National Self Portrait Collection of Ireland and the Imperial War Museum in London.

Like her fellow-Northern Ireland artist Markey Robinson (1918-1999) her output was prolific and her paintings regularly turn up at auction. While neither artist is generally regarded as particularly important, both have plenty of admirers and both sell well. She was best-known for her depictions of social events such as race meetings, country fairs and dances but she occasionally tackled darker subjects and painted a series of images of the Troubles that was exhibited in London. She also worked as a fashion journalist and, for a time, as an art critic. She continued painting into her 91st year and, in 2000, was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth for service to the arts.

Northern art

Other pictures from Northern Ireland include lot 12, Country Cart by Daniel O'Neill, €6,000-€8,000; lot 13, Judy by Colin Middleton, €25,000-€35,000; lot 29, Water Buckets by William Conor, €20,000-€30,000; and three by Markey Robinson including lot 41, Returning Home at Dusk, €800-€1,200.

What else? According to James O'Halloran of Adam's, lot 54 (€25,000-€35,000) is the recently re-discovered Portrait of Maria Susanna Ormbsy, seated holding a sketch book by "arguably Ireland's most important portraitist", Hugh Douglas Hamilton (1734-1808). It dates from 1796, when the artist had just returned to Ireland after a successful sojourn in Rome, and depicts the daughter of the MP for Sligo, William Ormsby of Hazelwood House, located just outside Sligo town.

Lot 56, Two Figures in a Moonlit Landscape by James Arthur O'Connor (€4,000-€6,000) is described as a "very similar painting" to the artist's well-known The Poachers in the National Gallery of Ireland; and, lot 63, a "wonderful oil" by William John Leech, London Bridge and Southwark Cathedral (€8,000-€12,000) which dates to the early 1940s.

Adam's, 26 St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2. Important Irish Art auction, Tuesday, March 27th, 6pm. Viewing today noon-5pm; Sunday 2pm-5pm; Monday and Tuesday 10am-5pm. Online catalogue, adams.ie