Shoeless children, straw men – Victorian images of Leitrim for London auction

Sotheby’s also offering a first-edition copy of ‘Ulysses’ with a top estimate of £250,000

A ‘meitheal’ (gathering) of men drinking Guinness after the rick of hay is finished

A ‘meitheal’ (gathering) of men drinking Guinness after the rick of hay is finished

 

A collection of late Victorian photographs illustrating rural life in Co Leitrim over 120 years ago is to be sold at auction in London on Monday (Dec. 11th). The photographs were taken by an English photographer with Irish roots – Leland Lewis Duncan – during his regular visits to Ireland in the 1890s. Sotheby’s said the photographic archive provides “an intimate view of rural life in north-west Ireland during the late-Victorian times”. The collection, consisting of 208 albumen prints and 20 gelatin silver prints, along with the photographer’s notebook in which he documented the photographs taken and places he visited, will go under the hammer with an estimate of £8,000-£12,000.

Duncan’s photographs ranged from the mud cabin to the Big House
Duncan’s photographs ranged from the mud cabin to the Big House

Leland Lewis Duncan was born in Lewisham, Kent in 1862. His Irish father was a civil servant who had moved to England from Ireland. Duncan himself became a civil servant and worked in the War Office. He rose through the ranks and was later awarded an OBE. In his spare time he was a keen photographer, historian, antiquarian and amateur archaeologist. From childhood, he regularly travelled to Ireland to visit cousins. His sister Caroline moved back to Ireland permanently when she married James Slacke of Annadale House, Kiltubrid, Co Leitrim – thus joining the Irish gentry.

‘Images speak to us out of a world that has disappeared,’ said John McGahern

Duncan often spent summer holidays in his sister’s new home and began documenting a wide range of subjects including members of his family, their servants and tenants, farm animals, historical artefacts and ancient monuments. His subjects ranged from the big house and the mud cabin, to the well-dressed landlord’s daughter and the impoverished peasant. These fascinating photographs of the people of Leitrim include a “meitheal” (gathering) of men drinking Guinness after the rick of hay is finished and a “straw-boy” dressed for wedding celebrations.

Some of the photographs appeared in a book published in 1995 by the Lilliput Press in Dublin (The Face of Time, Leland Lewis Duncan 1862-1923, Photographs of Co Leitrim). In a foreword, the novelist John McGahern commented on the people on the photographs: “Duncan’s photographs have the fascination of nearly all old photographs. Time that is still our element has already washed over these lives, and they seem to look at us out of a depth of time or waters in fashions that have ceased. What an added pleasure it is to see how unselfconscious these people are. They could not imagine how they would look in a photograph. Their mute presences are more eloquent than any idea of self.”

A ‘straw-boy’ dressed for wedding celebrations
A ‘straw-boy’ dressed for wedding celebrations

McGahern, who died in 2006, was himself a native of Co Leitrim and often wrote about the county. He said Duncan “had a sure grasp on the limitations of photography, its built-in objectivity, and that he was able to use it to express his patent sympathy with the people he was photographing. How, otherwise, could these pictures speak to us so movingly across all the years? They speak to us out of a world that has disappeared; but such is the magic and mystery of art that they do so with a richness and depth that life rarely gives.”

The photographs will go under the hammer as Lot 51 in Sotheby’s “English Literature, History, Children’s Books & Illustrations” sale in New Bond Street.

Copies of Ulysses and The Happy Prince

Sotheby’s also offering a first edition copy of Ulysses with a top estimate of £250,000 (€283k).

Sotheby’s also offering a first edition copy of Ulysses with a top estimate of £250,000 (€283k)
Sotheby’s is offering a first-edition copy of Ulysses with a top estimate of £250,000 (€283,000)

Also of Irish interest is a first edition copy of The Happy Prince – Oscar Wilde’s collection of short stories published in 1888. This is number 55 of 75 signed copies and contains illustrations by Walter Crane and the estimate is £6,000-£8,000.

Fans of James Joyce with very deep pockets will be interested in Lot 188 – the most valuable and collected book of the 20th century – a copy of the first edition of Ulysses published, of course, in Paris by Shakespeare & Company in 1922. The estimate is £150,000-£250,000. The reason for the high estimate? This is No 82 of 100 copies (out of a total first edition of 1,000 copies) printed on Dutch hand-made paper and signed by the author and is therefore, as Sotheby’s puts it: “the most desirable issue of the most important and most influential English novel of the 20th century”.

The record price for a first edition copy of Ulysses was achieved 15 years ago at Christie’s in New York when a copy inscribed by James Joyce to Henry Kaeser, a Swiss publisher, sold for $460,500 (€388k) in October 2002.

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