Records broken for Irish art in ‘thriving market’ of 2021

World records for Clarke’s Bluebeard’s Last Wife and Hone’s Composition

"A thriving market" is how Rory Guthrie of de Vere's describes 2021, adding that the "demand for pictures at the top was strongest of all". Two fine art sales in the past year totalled €5.75 million for the auction house with Sir William Orpen's museum-worthy After the Ball achieving €387,500 against its €150,00- €250,000 estimate. Paul Henry also fared well with Lakeside Cottages, (€281,250) as did Jack B Yeats with Little Horse at Play (€300,000) and The Good Grey Morning (€275,000) both of which had estimates of €200,000-€300,000.

It should be noted that Irish auction houses traditionally reported sales on the hammer price (the price before fees of approximately 25 per cent, inclusive of VAT) but larger players in the industry are now listing the premium-inclusive price – as is the case internationally – to give greater clarity. This also gives readers greater transparency as to what buyers have actually paid for a piece.

Adam’s of St Stephen’s Green conducted 23 auctions in 2021 generating €16.38 million across its disciplines of art, period and mid-century furniture, jewellery, Asian art and vintage wine. Top sales of Irish art featured some of the usual suspects with Paul Henry’s Cottages in Achill selling for €262,500, while The Belle of Chinatown by Jack B Yeats achieved €212,500. Two new world auction records were achieved with Harry Clarke’s stained glass panel, Bluebeard’s Last Wife, making €206,250 and Evie Hone’s Composition fetching €57,500.

Sapphires and diamonds

The top lot in period furniture at Adam’s was an Irish side table (€42,500) from the Homan Potterton sale, while an original 1916 Proclamation sold for €212,500. In jewellery, which grossed €3.5 million, the top lot was a 5.41ct marquise diamond purchased by an Irish buyer for €207,000.


"What was interesting was that many of our buyers were women purchasing for themselves, including a 1940s Tubogas sapphire and diamond bracelet by Bulgari which sold for €65,000 [more than six times its lower estimate]," according to Claire-Laurence Mestrallet. In its Asian section, a Guan-type porcelain vase achieved €456,250, while the sleeper was a Bleu de Hue dragon porcelain plate. Listed at €6,000-€8,000, after an intense bidding war it achieved €175,000. Also achieving €175,000 was an intricately carved Hongmu side table from the Qing dynasty, which was listed at €4,000-€6,000. More surprises came from the mid-century modern section, where two auction world records were set: Nathalie du Pasquier's In May with Blue Weight sold for €35,000 (€12,000-€16,000) while William McKeown's Painting No 325 sold for more than twice its lower estimate of €10,000, achieving €22,500.

Whyte's, still on a Jack B Yeats wave after the Ernie O'Malley sale in 2019, reported some strong results for the year, with Shouting selling for €1.74 million and Muldoon and Rattlesnake (€200,000). New records were set for Grace Henry when The Fortune Teller achieved €46,000, and Graham Knuttel, with Planet Hollywood which achieved €24,900. Letitia Hamilton's A Cove on Lake Garda also fared well at €21,800.

"Jack B Yeats [Waiting for the Ferry, Low Tide, €168,750], Louis le Brocquy and Paul Henry [Spring in Wicklow, €187,500] are clear favourites and we saw strong prices for Donald Teskey, John Shinnors and Patrick Scott, " says Ian Whyte, who also sold Irish revolutionary Kevin Barry's last letter, written to Kathleen Carney, for €93,750 in the Eclectic Collector sale.

Investment buying

Celebrating 20 years in the trade, John Weldon says his June sale was the second busiest ever, and having sold in excess of €100,000 worth of gold coins in 2021 due to "serious investment buying" he says demand is now outstripping supply. The highlight of Weldon's year, was an "Antiques Roadshow moment" when a Rolex GMT Master wristwatch achieved €20,000.

It was "an interesting but positive year" for Niall Mullen whose top sales were a set of binoculars captured from a Japanese war ship during the second World War (€15,270) and a Steinway piano (with room for a pianola) that achieved €3,125.

In Waterford, Keighery's had a good year with strong prices for Donald Teskey, and a set of bookcases achieved €3,600. Cork-based Morgan O'Driscoll's top sales were Turf Stacks Connemara by Paul Henry (€237,500); Louis le Brocquy's Image of William Shakespeare (€125,000) and Sean Scully's Untitled 3-7-86 (€100,000).

Strong results at Sotheby's this year were Sir John Lavery's Early Morning Tangier (£340,000, €400,000 approx) – almost double its top estimate – while his portrait of Mrs Charles Barker also did well at £214,200. Paul Henry's West of Ireland Landscape achieved £327,600, and Rowan Gillespie's fabulous sculpture, Are You There?, achieved £107,100 – almost double its higher estimate. Bonhams also reported a strong year in terms of Irish art with William Scott's Four Pears (£187,750); Paul Henry's Purple Hills (£106,500); Sir John Lavery's Jasmin (£69,000) and In Morocco (£156,500). And 200 letters and postcards relating to the civil war and Michael Collins achieved £4,462.