One of the highlights of this year’s auction scene was the sale of Gillian Bowler’s collection at Adam’s at the end of May. Bowler was far more than a society belle or a clever business person. She was an intelligent and well-read woman with an astute eye for art. She was also very influential in the early days of IMMA – her close friendship with Charles Haughey can’t have harmed the growth of that institution. Her collection included work by Jack Yeats, Lavery, le Brocquy and a particularly good nude by Patrick Collins. Another nude (Blue Nude) by Barrie Cooke also attracted a lot of attention. Nudes generally don’t do that well at auction, perhaps because the average wife of a male art collector can hardly be expected to encourage the charms of another woman being on prominent display in the home. It’s no surprise therefore that this Renoireqsue work was in the hands of a female collector. Cooke is an erratic painter but when he is good he is very, very, good and this was probably one of the best nudes of his I’ve seen. The fact that it was shown at his major retrospective in 1992 in The Hague suggests that the artist also rated it. It has a compositional inevitability about it. In its presence you are reminded of the old adage about great art having wholeness, harmony and radiance. This flowing and glowing work certainly does not lack in the latter regard. The NGI is said to have acquired another nude by Cooke, Big Hot Tub, which had been featured in an exhibition at Oliver Sears Gallery and listed at €30,000. Perhaps the NGI paid less, but the Cooke nude shown here went for the very reasonable price of €17,000.
Image: Barrie Cooke (1931-2014) Blue Nude oil on canvas 105x120cm