Get a slice of country house living at this week’s auctions

Clocks, library chairs, and leather sofas are among the finds at Adam’s, while Sheppards has a collection of 18th century art, artefacts and furniture for sale

The Netflix series, The Gentlemen, has certainly brought a new narrative twist to country house living, as the plot lines explore how 21st century aristocratic wealth could be derived from shadier enterprises than one might expect.

The fine paintings, historic volumes of books and decorative furniture, which adorn the library rooms of country houses are well captured in the series, and act as a reminder of the enduring public fascination with the owners of these lavish homes.

The contents of country house libraries are also the inspiration for Adam’s annual “Library Collection” auction, which will take place on Wednesday.

One of the highlights of the sale, according to James O’Halloran of the auction house, is that over 80, of the total 370 lots, originate from a Pennsylvania farmhouse built by Abraham Dawes. The property was used as the headquarters by Gen. George Washington [later the first president of the United States] in 1777, during the American Revolutionary War.


This collection of furniture, clocks, porcelain and glass, which has never previously been on the market, has been in Ireland with relatives of the Dawes family for the last three decades or so.

The Library Collection auction also includes several curiosities, such as a selection of walking canes with carved ornamental handles (estimates range from €70-€1,200); a bronze death mask of the great Irish 19th century political leader, Daniel O’Connell (estimate €3,000-€5,000); 19th century souvenir models of temples in the Roman forum, featuring the ruins of the Temple of Castor and Pollux and the Temple of Vespasian and Titus, with an estimate of €10,000-€15,000 for the two; and two sundials – a Victorian bronze circular sundial (estimate €500-€700), and a solar and lunar bronze and slate sundial (estimate €500-€700). A silver owl mustard pot (€2,000-€3,000), is an exquisite item among the wide variety of silverware in the auction.

An 18th century view of the Grand Canal in Venice, from the school of Canaletto (estimate €10,000-€15,000) is among the paintings on sale. The painting, which takes in the view towards the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute at the entrance to the Grand Canale, is based on a similar composition by the 18th century Venetian painter, Giovanni Antonio Canal, who became better known as Canaletto.

For those who like upholstered seating, there are two Chesterfield button back sofas (estimate €1,200-€1,800 and €1,000-€1,500). And the George III “Gainsborough” library armchair, upholstered in black leather (estimate €1,200-€1,600), looks like a fine piece of furniture if you had the right spot for it.

O’Halloran says that these armchairs were given the sobriquet Gainsborough, because there were popular choices for the society ladies and gents, who sat for hours as the 18th century English artist painted their portraits.

The folio of 23 etchings of the Hôtel des Invalides in the 7th arrondissement of Paris (estimate €1,000-€1,500,) may be of interest to collectors of historic books. Now commonly known as Les Invalides, the striking complex of buildings originated as a hospital and retirement home for soldiers (similar to Dublin’s Royal Kilmainham Hospital). It now contains museums and monuments on French military history.

The book was previously sold in 1925 in Dublin, as part of a collection of furniture, paintings and books from Carton House in Co Kildare, and the Fitzgerald crest is still identifiable on its inside.

‘Great resonance’

Auctioneer Michael Sheppard has a busy week ahead with three auctions – Great Irish Interiors (April 30th/May 1st), Fine Jewellery (May 2nd) and Irish Vernacular Part III (May 3rd), in Sheppard’s auction rooms in Durrow, Co Laois.

He is particularly excited about the collection of 18th-century art, artefacts and furniture – including Irish glass and some Chinese art – which an Irish investment banker amassed over his lifetime and is now selling, due to a move from west Cork to the south of France.

“It’s a focused collection of work,” says Sheppard, leaving readers curiously guessing as to who its owner is.

Whimsically describing the last tranche of a large private collection of Irish vernacular furniture and artefacts as “like the wedding feast of Cana where the best wine was saved until last”, Sheppard expects many of the pieces “will have a great resonance” with regular auction goers.

A collection of antique bicycles are among the quirkier items on sale. They include a penny-farthing bicycle (€4,000-€6,000) and an antique adult tricycle (€4,000-€6,000). It was owned by Lord Arlington, whose home was Emo Court, the only country villa designed by English architect James Gandon in Ireland. A portrait of Lady Arlington of Emo Court, by British watercolourist, Thomas Heaphy (estimate €800- €1,200), might be of interest to the Office of Public Works, which now manages the property.

Regional museums with acquisitions budgets, who are seeking to expand their collections, might also be interested in a bog oak 18th Century penal cross (estimate €2,000-€3,000); an 18th-century Irish ash and elm hedge chair (estimate €800-€1,200); and early 19th-century cock fighting chair (estimate €800-€1,200); all of which would provide insight into rural life in Ireland during this period.

Finally, the Letitia Hamilton painting of a Galway hooker on Claddagh Quay (estimate €8,000-€12,000), is one of a number of paintings worth perusing at Dolan’s Art Auction, which ends on Monday.;;

What did it sell for?

Irish pine settle bed (as featured in The Banshees of Inisherin)

Estimate: €800-€1,200

Hammer price: €800

Auction house: Adam’s

Mossed antique trough

Estimate: €600-€1,200

Hammer price: €900

Auction house: RJ Keighery

James Dixon, Cutty Sark

Estimate: €8,000-€12,000

Hammer price: €36,000

Auction house: Adam’s

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment