Testing times for Irish art in London as RTÉ auctions le Brocquys

Broadcaster’s tapestries, paintings among pieces in Sotheby’s auction of Irish works

The forthcoming Sotheby's Irish Art sale in London on November 19th features some important paintings which have not been seen in public – some in over a century – until the collection of works were exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy earlier last month.

The sale includes Irish works from the United States, Australia, Canada, the UK and Ireland.

Top of the bill is A Paris of the West/A Paris come to Judgement in the West by Jack B Yeats of a west of Ireland scene. Thought to be Enniscrone, here Paris is a young Irish boy, where Yeats is elevating a west of Ireland subject to the realms of Greek and Roman mythology. The estimate is €582,000-€932,000.

Eight further Yeats paintings are also listed in the sale.


Louis le Brocquy features strongly in the catalogue, most notably with a monumental Aubusson tapestry being sold by RTÉ. The 30sq m Massing of the Armies, was commissioned in 2000 and hung at the reception of the state broadcasters headquarters in Montrose. It's based on leBrocquy's 1969 illustrations of the Irish epic Táin Bó Cúailnge, recording the legend of Queen Medb and the Brown Bull of Cooley. The estimate is €139,000-€209,000.

Other works by le Brocquy include An Image of Samuel Beckett and Image of James Joyce (€69,000-€93,000) the looped-wool hanging Táin, which also came from RTÉ (€81,000-€116,000) and, from le Brocquy's grey period, Study, Man with a Towel (€46,000-€69,000).

Further portrait works include John McGahern by Barrie Cooke (€6,900-€9,300) a crayon drawing of Seamus Heaney by Colin Davidson. (€4,600-€6,900).

The striking Head of a Child (Summer) by Gottfried Helnwein, the Austrian artist based at Gurteen Castle in Co Tipperary, is exemplary of photo-realism, so much so that you could easily pass by the painting thinking it was a photograph, until closer inspection reveals the gentle brushstrokes around the child's eyebrows (€34,000-€58,000).

The Refugee by William Leech is a departure from the plein-air painter noted for his love of colour and sunlight. Here a sparse background and muted tones act as a backdrop for a nude model sitting languidly with her head in her hand. It is suggested that Leech's change in direction from bright colour and sunlight, was as a result of him falling in love with his muse May Botterell (€46,600-€69,800).

Leech also shared much in common with fellow artist Roderic O'Conor. Both men studied in Paris and in the villages of Brittany, both painted interiors, demonstrating an interest in indoor and reflected light. Above all, both men shared a passion for colour. Seven paintings by O'Conor feature in the sale, the most striking of which is A Moonlit Breton Landscape, of a mysterious night-time festivity which has echoes of Paul Gauguin's Upa (The Fire Dance) (€139,800-€209,600). See sothebys.com.