Hammer falls on Bank of Ireland's collection


MORE THAN 500 people attended last night’s sale of works of art from the Bank of Ireland’s collection by fine art auctioneers Adam’s.

The ballroom of the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin was packed with well-heeled bidders of all ages and there was standing room only when auctioneer James O’Halloran launched what he described as “a special event” at 6.15pm.

He said the “unprecedented” crowd was the biggest ever seen at an Adam’s sale and welcomed people from “all over the world” who were following the auction online.

On the street outside, a small group of protesters carried placards denouncing the auction.

They included Bruce Ballagh (35), a Dublin car dealer who was representing his father, artist Robert Ballagh, who had publicly criticised the sale but was unable to attend as he is in hospital.

Breda O’Byrne (67), a shareholder and former employee of Bank of Ireland said the Government should have taken over the collection and “held it as collateral for all the taxpayers’ money that has been given to Bank of Ireland to bail it out”. She wore a placard around her neck printed with the slogan: “Guilty bankers and watchdogs should be severely punished”.

Gemma Mastroianni Carroll, “an ex-Wall Street banker” married to an Irishman, living in Dublin, described the sale as “an act of cultural vandalism”.

Arriving at the hotel, Anne Mathews, a spokeswoman for Bank of Ireland, handed out a statement explaining that the proceeds of the sale would “be used solely to support the outreach programmes of arts organisations and artists working in the community” and details would be announced “shortly”.

Examples “could include” arts projects for people with disabilities and “arts and peace cross-Border projects”.

The bank hoped that the works being sold would “reach an appreciative audience”.

Some 145 works by Ireland’s best-known painters and sculptors went under the hammer in the sale.

There was brisk bidding from the outset when Lot 1, a painting by Co Armagh-born artist Cecil Maguire of the regatta at Roundstone, Co Galway, sold for €5,200 – comfortably exceeding its estimate of €2,000-€4000.

But within minutes, prices jumped. Lot 4, a self-portrait by Sean Keating, sold for €32,000 to murmurs of approval.

As the evening went on, there was lively competition between bidders in the room, on the phone and online.

The highlights included a painting called Out With The Netsby Gerard Dillon, which fetched €50,000 (estimate €25,000- €35,000) and a bronze sculpture, The Settlersby Rowan Gillespie, which sold for €24,000 – double its highest estimate.

There was a moment of humour when Mr O’Halloran reached Lot 40, an abstract painting called Big Forest Borneoby Barrie Cooke, and said “the illustration in the catalogue is upside down; I’m sure you all noticed that”.

The nervous laughter in the room suggested that few had. But maybe they had because the painting was the only lot in the auction which failed to sell.

The remainder of the bank’s collection, which totals some 2,000 pieces, will be sold by Adam’s on a phased basis over the next few years.