Women artists a feature of Slane sale


AMONG THE array of valuable period furniture, military memorabilia, paintings, Georgian silver and glass on offer tomorrow in Adam's Country House auction at Slane Castle are works by three very different Irish women artists.

Two are well known; the third, Catherine Gage, is an intriguing minor enigma, yet her portfolio of ornithological studies, containing a lifetime's work, deserves to be purchased by a State institution, the Natural History Museum or National Library, or the Royal Irish Academy.

Mildred Anne Butler (1858-1941), daughter of an officer who was also a talented artist, is now recognised as one of Ireland's finest artists; she is represented by a watercolour.

Caroline Hamilton, née Tighe (1771-1861) was born into the aristocracy and enjoyed a privileged European education. She was a shrewd observer and the 11 works on paper, mainly executed in coloured wash over pencil or ink, provide vivid glimpses into the life of the Irish gentry.

Less grotesque than Hogarth with whom she is compared, the work is nonetheless satirical in time and probably her most important work, Domestic Happiness as Acted in this City - Tragic Comic Farce, was exhibited in the National Gallery in 1987 as part of a show of Irish women artists.

Butler's watercolour, Daily Toil, depicts a servant woman at work in the basement kitchen of a great house. In common with Hamilton's drawings, it is Irish social history brought to life, albeit in a sensitive and thoughtful tone.

Catherine Gage (1815-1892) devoted her life to providing the illustrations to a book undertaken by her brother Robert.

The subject, the birds of Rathlin Island, was intended to follow the style of John James Audubon's monumental volume, Birds of America(1840). Robert Gage's book was never formally published.

Gage's illustrations in land and seascape settings lack the surreal theatricality of Audubon's style, but the collection not only records the bird life, it traces the evolution of her response to her subjects.