Portrait of an artist reveals a painter not a poet

Lot at upcoming auction tuns out to be self-portrait not portrait of Anthony Cronin

The late poet and novelist Anthony Cronin, who died in December, might have been amused to see the print catalogue for Morgan O'Driscoll Auctioneers current art auction, which includes Lot 113 Portrait of Anthony Cronin (1988) by Michael Kane, with an estimate of €2,000-€4,000.

The painting has been consigned to the auction by an unnamed private collector in good faith. In response to a query from The Irish Times if the portrait had been commissioned, the auctioneer contacted the octogenarian artist – who was a friend of Cronin's. Kane said he wasn't quite sure about the subject of the painting – it was made almost 30 years ago – but was "more likely to be a self-portrait" rather than a depiction of Cronin.

Abstract modern art is hard to pin down. In either case, it is fair to say that the painting is quite unlike a traditional "likeness". The vendor has been informed and the auction catalogue has now been amended online – too late for print – to now read: Lot 113, Michael Kane (B. 1935) Self Portrait (1988) – with the same estimate: €2,000-€4,000.

The moral of the tale is that prospective bidders who have any doubts about lots on view should always ask questions. Genuine mistakes – due to human error or faulty recollection – can occur even in the most carefully-catalogued auctions. As it happens, the vendor had previously consigned the painting (under the same title Portrait of Anthony Cronin) to an auction at Mealy's in 2015 – with a lower estimate of €700-€1,100 – where it failed to attract and interest and was unsold.


For the record, the artist Michael Kane – born in 1935, a cofounder of the Project Arts Centre in Dublin, and a member of Aosdána – did paint Cronin on at least another occasion. The National Gallery of Ireland's list of acquisitions of 2015 includes: The Poet in Baggot Street II, Portrait of the Poet Anthony Cronin by Michael Kane (Gouache and ink on paper).

The Michael Kane is one of a selection of modern, abstract paintings in this auction, including Lot 30, Jack the Lad – an oil on canvas painting of a racehorse – by Basil Blackshaw that was acquired directly from the artist and is being sold from a private collection with an estimate of €15,000-€25,000.

Blackshaw died last year and there has been a recent surge of his work on the market. His fondness for rural subjects is well-known, but his depiction of the aftermath of cockfighting – Lot 85, The Dust Settles, estimated at €20,000-€30,000 – is surely a very niche subject. Another distinctive and vibrantly colourful painting by Michael Flatley – a large (over three feet square) oil on marley painting titled, appropriately, Tribal Dance – is in an even higher price league, estimated at €25,000-€35,000. Flatley has leaped to centrestage in the Irish art market and this latest offering is likely to attract plenty of interest.

The sale is a clever mix of modern and very traditional, to appeal to the broadest possible audience. The top estimate is for Sailing Boat on a Loch by Paul Henry – dating from about 1916-1917 – estimated at €60,000-€80,000.

But the titles of many paintings hardly require illustration to evoke the world of rural, and especially west of Ireland, landscapes, which still seem to have very wide appeal. Among numerous examples: Lot 3, Mayo Shed No. 3 by Martin Gale (€1,200-€1,800); Lot 10, Salrock, Connemara by James Humbert Craig (€5,000-€7,000); Lot 16, The Farm Gate, Wicklow by Peter Collis (€3,000-€5,000); Lot 37, Digging Potatoes by Charles McAuley (€3,000-€5,000); Lot 44, Racing on Glenbeigh Strand by Robert Taylor Carson (€3,000-€5,000); and Lot 59, Galway Hookers Berthed at Roundstone Harbour by Ivan Sutton (€1,200-€1,800).

‘Old Belfast’

There's always lots of interest in paintings by Frank McKelvey (who died in 1974), and among five works by him in this sale, his classic depiction of "Old Belfast" in Lot 24, The Park Pond– depicting children feeding the ducks – is the highlight, with an estimate of €15,000-€20,000.

All the paintings (and a selection of sculpture) were shipped to London last weekend for three days of viewing at La Galleria Pall Mall. O’Driscoll is the only Irish art auctioneer who holds viewings overseas. Speaking by phone from London, on Tuesday afternoon, he said “it was well worthwhile coming over” and that the art was attracting interest “mainly from Irish expatriates and second-generation Irish in the 45-65 age group – some of them already clients but also new faces”.

The art is now back in Dublin and on view – through to Monday afternoon – in the Minerva Suite at the RDS in Ballsbridge, where the auction takes place on Monday evening (April 10th) at 6pm. For online catalogue and bidding registration details, see morganodriscoll.com

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