Why sell – or buy – Irish art in London?
Even with the fall in sterling there are hefty costs involved in London sales
Irish auctioneers claim that Irish art sells best in Ireland. And they have a point. Most Irish art is bought by Irish buyers – either living in Ireland or throughout the Irish diaspora. But some Irish artists, notably Sir John Lavery, Jack B Yeats and Sir William Orpen, have an international following and are sought after by collectors worldwide.
For vendors in England (and Northern Ireland for currency reasons) who want to sell Irish art – London is the obvious choice. But some Irish sellers also choose to consign to the big London sales. Why? There’s a belief that they can tap into an international audience and especially the large (and often affluent) Irish community in Britain who may not follow the auctions in Dublin.
The Irish Art sale at Sotheby’s was first held in 1995 and has been an annual event ever since – although it was suspended between 2011 and 2015 after the economic crash. Sotheby’s is the only one of the big three international auctioneers in London to hold an annual auction dedicated solely to Irish art and the viewings in the New Bond Street saleroom attract a well-heeled audience. Sotheby’s is also perceived to be a prestigious global brand. The company claims to have a global reach that Irish auctioneers cannot match with large marketing budgets, dedicated press teams for each auction and a network of offices in more than 50 countries. For example, the highlight of this year’s Irish Art sale, a Swiss Alpine landscape painting, The Summit of Jungfrau by Sir John Lavery, estimated at £150,000-£250,000 (€164,195-€273,560) is already attracting enquiries from collectors in Switzerland and is being marketed there by Sotheby’s offices in Geneva and Zurich.
Even with the decline in the value of sterling versus the euro, buying Irish art in London is more expensive than in Dublin. Exchange rates aside, a painting that achieves a hammer price of £100,000 at Sotheby’s in London will attract a buyer’s premium of 25 per cent so the winning bidder will actually pay £125,000 plus VAT. The buyer’s premium on a €100,000 painting in a Dublin auction house is typically 20 per cent. Also, buyers based in Ireland will have to pay insurance and shipping costs to get their purchase back to Ireland although these costs are not significant – Sotheby’s said it would cost around £200 to ship a £100,000 painting from London to Dublin.
Vendors, incidentally, also have to pay commission to auctioneers. Sotheby’s – like most auctioneers – does not publish the rates. However, The Irish Times understands that the amount can be up to 15 per cent but the rate is negotiable.