Top price for Henry painting reflects vibrant market for Irish art

€400,000 paid for ‘The Potato Diggers’

Three major auctions this week – two in Dublin and one in London – provided a mid-year snapshot of the market for Irish art which, despite the ongoing austerity, appears to be in rude health. As expected, the top price of the week was achieved at Adam's for The Potato Diggers by Paul Henry, which made €400,000, a record price at auction for the artist, and well over the estimate of €250,000-€350,000.

The painting, which was sold by a private Irish collector, will now go overseas as the winning bid was made by an unnamed Irish family living “in Europe”. The auctioneer, James O’Halloran, said the family had come to Dublin to view the painting last week and were “blown away by it”.

The price exceeds by a wide margin the previous record for a painting by Paul Henry, The Turf Gatherer which sold at Adam's for €300,000 in 2007.

O’Halloran said 79 per cent of lots sold and that “people were looking for quality and rarity” and were prepared to pay for both.


The Potato Diggers was painted in Achill Island, Co Mayo, in about 1910 and was acquired by the Irish vendor's family 80 years ago for £300.

Two other paintings sold for six-figure sums at Adam's: Thatched Cottages with Lake and Mountains Beyond, also by Paul Henry, made €130,000 (€120,000- €160,000); and A Grey Morning in a Breton Farmyard by Walter Osborne, €100,000 (€100,000- €150,000).

On Monday, at Whyte's auction in the RDS, attendees were joined by internet bidders from eight countries, including the US and the United Arab Emirates. The top lot was a pair of 19th-century equestrian portraits of Kildare racehorses: Colonel Westenra's "Freney" and "Roller", A Bay Hunter by William Brocas, which sold to a collector in London for €29,000, just below the estimate of €30,000-€40,000.

Overall, 73 per cent of lots sold and auctioneer Ian Whyte said "internet bidders bought 20 per cent of the lots". Analysis of the results reveals that 25 per cent of lots sold above estimate, 24 per cent below estimate, and 51 per cent within estimate. See below for more auction results.

Irish art in London
On Wednesday in London at Bonhams sale of British and Irish art in New Bond Street, the top Irish lot was a painting, The New Moon, Moonrise by Sir John Lavery. It had a pre-auction estimate of £70,000- £100,000 but sold for £181,250 (€212,000). A sculpture titled Mother and Child by Frederick Edward McWilliam, from Banbridge, Co Down, who died in 1992, sold for £87,650 (€102,525) more than four times the estimate (£15,000-£20,000).