Whyte’s were blessed to have two Paul Henry paintings in their sale held at the end of February. Both pictures date from the mid-1930s when the artist’s engagement with devising an iconography for the west of Ireland was still in the process of development and had not yet stultified into repetitive mannerism. A Kerry Bog may have been the earlier of the two, since it is known to have been first exhibited at Combridge’s Gallery, Dublin in May 1935, at which date it was purchased by the vendor’s father. Henry’s response to the Kerry landscape was enthusiastic: ‘It is lovely,’ he wrote to a friend the previous winter, ‘Wherever one turns there is material for dozens of pictures.’ This, then, is one of the very earliest of those dozens and is cleverly composed with a channel of light-reflecting water snaking a course from the centre of the composition to the foreground via a sequence of cut turf hillocks. Beyond and set well back are the customary Henry line of mountains but in this instance nearly black rather than the more familiar blue, and almost oppressed by the density of cloud above.
The second picture, Cabins by a Lough: West of Ireland, is perhaps slightly later in date, although again originally purchased from Combridge’s by the vendor’s father. This time the imagery is altogether more recognizable, not least thanks to a line of white-washed and thatched cottages close to the front of the painting, their modest proportions made apparent by the scale of the lake behind and the height of mountains to the rear. It was imagery such as this, portraying an unspoilt rural vision, which came to be employed by the far-sighted Irish Tourist Board to encourage visitors to the country and which still lingers today. Both pictures found buyers, Cabins by a Lough going over its pre-sale estimate to make €54,000 while €66,000 was paid for A Kerry Bog.