Barrie Cooke: Whyte’s 28 May

Barrie Cooke (1931-2014) Hot Tub II oil on canvas 76.2×76.2cm

Barrie Cooke did a series of ‘Hot Tub’ paintings in the early 2000s. These paintings showed minor variations on the same basic theme. We see the rear view image of a golden female figure emerging in a slightly ungainly fashion from the green water of a hot tub against a black background. It’s a less than beautiful image and it hardly represents Barrie Cooke’s finest hour. However the painting is imbued with a piquant art history resonance as the female depicted is Camille Souter, a good friend of Cooke’s over the years. You could speculate that it was the latter feature that encouraged the National Gallery of Ireland to pay the Oliver Sears Gallery a figure adjacent to €30,000 for Big Hot Tub. This was the largest version in the series (as the title suggests) weighing in at 185x185cm. Whyte’s late May auction featured Hot Tub II a smaller version with a modest guide price of €4,000-€6,000. Considering a very similar work had received the imprimatur of the NGI, it was surprising that it only realised €5,000. Or it could of course be that the NGI has paid over the odds for its version. A look at Cooke’s auction results over the past ten years makes dispiriting reading. In addition to a large number of unsold paintings, this often uneven artist only achieved two results worth noting. One was Palomenta which went for €20,000 at de Veres in 2014 and the other was his portrait of Seamus Heaney which sold for €28,000 at Adam’s in 2008. It’s reasonable to say that his stock is currently low on the market. Elsewhere at Whyte’s some of the guide prices proved to be unpredictable. Jack B Yeats’ Morning Glory 1945 yielded €175,000, almost double its lower estimate. And the beautifully compos

ed Killary Bay by Paul Henry, his clouds and mountains complemented by the elegant grace note of a sailing boat, was sold for €140,000, a whopping €90,000 above its guide. A slighter larger Henry with the same guide price, Western Skies, went for €46,000 a disappointing €4,000 below its lower estimate.

John P O’Sullivan