Auctions: Winter 2017

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New from the current edition.

Patrick Hennessy Whyte’s 2 October
Patrick Hennessy spent much of his later life in Morocco and many of his paintings were unabashed celebrations of the local males. Bruce Arnold, a contemporary critic, was not an admirer and famously described his work as ‘pictures of stupid-looking young men standing around in their underpants’. This fatuous dismissal says more about Arnold than it does about the quality of Hennessy’s work. There is far more to Hennessy than his obvious affection for the Arab male. Consider the bleak post-war De Profundis or the sun-bleached, surreal North African landscapes. His talent for portraiture is seen in his painting of Elizabeth Bowen where he conveys powerfully the formidable hauteur of that lady. Hennessy worked hard at his own myth. He was born in Cork in 1915 but moved to Scotland when he was five after his father, a sergeant major, was killed in the First World War. Having completed his art school education in Scotland he returned to Ireland in the late 1930s with conscription looming in the UK. A good-looking and charming man, and a natty dresser, he adopted the role of gentleman Irish artist and began moving in all the right circles. Mainie Jellet opened his first Irish exhibition in 1939 and he quickly gained a fashionable following. His reputation waned somewhat in the 1970s not helped by the animosity of critics such as Dorothy Walker and Arnold. Cavalcade, which sold for €20,000 (its estimate was €15,000 to €20,000) at Whyte’s 2 October auction, again celebrates the Moroccan male and that sun-drenched landscape. It also expresses the energy and freedom of a milieu far from the costive salons of the Dublin art scene.

Gerard Dillon Adam’s 27 September
Gerard Dillon was much possessed by death – and not without cause. Three of his brothers died within the space of four years, between 1962 and 1966. A painting from that period, The Brothers, shows three skeletons lying underground, while a fourth figure, a pierrot, kneels in anguish above them. He also had a dream, which he took very seriously, that he would die at the age of 55. The pierrot become a fixture in his later work and The Artist in the Country shows an artist as a pierrot against a background replete with portents of death: the black lines leading from the easel, the blackened out eyes, and the ruined cottage with its ominous black windows. In the distance is a small idyllic island representing perhaps a land of lost content. Dillon spent many happy periods of his life on islands off the west coast, particularly Inishlacken. The pierrot is essentially a sad clown and it’s a telling indicator of Dillon’s state of mind in his latter years. He was never one to explain his work, believing that the image should speak for itself. However he had been dabbling in C J Jung’s work and conceded that these pierrots represented his subconscious: ‘They all come from the side of me that’s over there’. Riann Coulter has also suggested that the pierrot’s ‘most significant role was as a symbol of Dillon’s identity as an artist and a gay man’. Dillon’s fears were proved justifiable when, bizarrely, he died of a heart attack at fifty-five as he had predicted. This important portrait of a death foretold guided at €15,000 to €20,000 but made €39,000 at Adam’s 27 September sale.

Colin Middleton Adam’s 27 September
Colin Middleton is an artist whose work can vary wildly depending on what period in his life it was painted. There are at least three distinct flavours of Middleton. In the late 1930s and 1940s his work had a surrealist taste and owed a debt to Salvador Dali whom he much admired. Paintings like Trojan Horse (1942) and Mary Magdalene and the Holy Trinity (1939) are characteristic of this phase. In 1948 he left England and moved back to Northern Ireland – settling in Ardglass, County Down. He began to produce a series of landscapes based on the countryside around Ardglass and these paintings owed more to Cézanne than the surrealists. However in the late 1950s and into the 1960s he moved away from landscape into abstraction, often with titles suggesting the figurative foundations. Adam’s September auction gave us four paintings from these latter two periods in Middleton’s career and the market came down firmly in favour of the earlier more accessible work. Woods in June (1950) guided at €15,000 to €20,000 and achieved a hammer price of €37,000. Landscape with a Tree again (1950) guided at €15,000 to €20,000 and yielded €30,000. The later abstract works, Seated Woman (1964) and Grey Landscape (1967) both went for €10,000 – within their guide price range.

Richard Thomas Moynan De Veres 20 September
The name Richard Thomas Moynan doesn’t loom large these days but his expertly drawn and beautifully composed paintings attract attention when they turn up occasionally at auction. He is best known for his Military Manoeuvres at the National Gallery of Ireland, a finely detailed depiction of street children playing at soldiers. Over his career he interspersed his studies of scenic South County Dublin with depictions of the waifs and strays that populated areas of the capitol. Moynan was a Freemason with a charitable bent and had a noted sympathy for the poor. There is I suppose a certain irony in his painting Tug of War, again featuring street urchins at play, selling for a whopping €250,000 at de Veres in 1999. A smaller piece Only a Waif, Cold and Wearied went for €32,000 at Adam’s in 2006. De Veres had a smaller work, A Muted Appeal, on offer in their 20 September sale with a modest guide price of €6,000 to €9,000. The match girl depicted could be the older sister of the waifs depicted in Tug of War and Military Manoeuvres. She does however appear to be well fed, is clad in warm and well-maintained clothing, and has a pair of sturdy boots. You’d still buy her matches though given her ineffably sad expression. This Mona Lisa of the mean streets went for a very reasonable €10,500, a bargain I suspect.

For more on these artists see the Irish Arts Review Archive on
Patrick Hennessy by Seán Kissane vol 33 no 1 (2016) p8.
Gerard Dillon by Karen Reihill vol 29 no 3 (2012) p104.
John Lavery by Philip McEvansoneya vol 27 no 2 (2010p90.
Sean Scully by Brian P Kennedy vol 23 no 1 (2006) p70.
Richard Thomas Moynan by Maebh O’Regan vol 23 no 4 (2004) p112.