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Radiant legacy

The legacy of stained-glass artist Helen Moloney is in the vibrancy of her colours and her use of coloured glass and lead lines in an abstract manner, writes Bart Felle

The stained-glass work of Helen Moloney (1926-2011) sparkled among the work of a remarkable generation of Irish stained-glass artists of the late 20th century. Her practice spanned less than two decades during which she was the stained-glass artist of choice for Liam McCormick (1916-1996), the pre-eminent church architect of his day (see IAR, vol 25 no 2). As such, her work merits examination in light of the increasing interest in and appreciation of late 20th-century Irish stained glass. Moloney worked not only in stained glass, but also in enamel and appliqué design.

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A Fairyland Mise-en scéne

NICOLA GORDON BOWE examines a rare collection of Harry Clarke’s first published illustrations for Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales

Many of Harry Clarke’s original pen and ink drawings and watercolours for five books he illustrated for the London publishers, George G Harrap, are believed to have perished when their offices in Holborn were destroyed the Blitz. Those that have survived tend to have been either the unpublished versions, usually given by the artist to friends, colleagues and family, or those he retained sold at exhibitions in Dublin, Cork, London or New York during his short lifetime (1889 1931). A certain Mr Byrne Hackett of the Brick Row Bookshop in New York is known have taken regular consignments of Clarke’s original work, some of which his wife featured in an ‘Exhibition of Irish Art’ in 1930. However, those for his first book, Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales, co-published with Harrap’s American publishers, Brentano’s in New York, in the autumn of 1916 were an exception. In 1925, Clarke wrote that Brentano’s ‘took all my originals for Hans Andersen… and they were shown in their bookshop in Fifth Avenue’ – where Mr Byrne Hackett may well have seen them first. Nonetheless, Clarke’s original illustrations, those for Hans Andersen no less than for any of his others, have slow to appear either in public or private collections, or at auction.’ (1)

They are very rare and, in the case of the coloured illustrations, the original versions show how their reproductions in books give only an idea of his original work, even when featured the luxuriously produced, variously bound, signed and numbered limited edition giftbooks which were a feature of the time. There is a substantial difference between the originals and their repro ductions as full-page colour plates in the books. While his fine pen and ink drawings translated excellently into black and white through the first-rate photographic, reproduction, and printing techniques available by the end of the 19th century, this is not the case with his exquisitely detailed, subtly coloured watercolour, pen and ink with bodycolour originals. In reproduction, they are invariably flatter, less distinct, tonally altered and lacking in detail. They are also siderably smaller (c.7 “ x 5 “) than the originals (between c. 12 “x- 16” and c.8” x 11”) .(2)

This June, a treasure trove of ten out of the sixteen colour illustrations Clarke made Harrap’s Hans Andersen were exhibited for sale by the Fine Art Society in London.(3) They were discovered in America, having previously been exhibited from a private collection at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.(4) In mint condition, of varying dimensions, and pleted using a steadily maturing range of narrative treatments between January 1914 and April 1915, they offer an opportunity to study the imaginative inventiveness of the finest earliest published work in colour by Clarke. George Harrap described how, shortly before Christmas 1913, the ‘slim, pale and youthful’ Dublin art school graduate had arrived at his office in Kingsway: ‘very shyly and with delicate fingers [he] drew out his lovely drawings’ from his portfolio having been rebuffed by the eleven other London publishers on his list. As well as illustrations to Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, W B Yeats’ Song of Wandering Aengus, George ‘AE’ Russell’s poem, The City, Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock, John Keats’ Eve of S. Agnes and La Belle Dame sans Merci and Synge’s Playboy of the Westem World, Clarke had already drawn at least one illustration to Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales. This may well have given Harrap the idea of giving this ‘unknown and untried’ young artist the remarkable opportunity to produce forty full-page illustrations (twenty-four in black and white as well as the sixteen in colour), plus sixteen additional pen and ink decorative embellishments, for the sort of lavish production usually only given to well-established illustrators such as Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham and Kay Nielsen. ‘Why did not the very first publisher take this Irish genius to his heart?’ Harrap mused later, recalling their meeting which resulted in Clarke leaving his office with a commission worth the princely sum of 200 guineas and the publisher taking a major risk, even if it was for such a popular collection of children’s stories.(6)

However enthusiastically Harraps introduced the ‘fresh interpretation’ of their ‘new Irish artist’ to the book ing market, forecasting how satisfying his ‘new and tional treatment’ would be to ‘art lovers’… intellectual emotions’(7) they clearly saw Clarke as providing direct tion with their rival publishers, Hodder & Stoughton. Hodder had published Edmund Dulac’s twenty-eight plates to their immensely successful de luxe and cloth tions of Stories from Hans Andersen, a number of whose Clarke would also illustrate, some directly comparably.(8)

‘Why did not the very first publisher take this Irish genius to his heart?’ Harrap

Clarke’s ‘delicate and intricate details’ are even closer in Hodder’s other star, the young Danish artist Kay Nielsen, decadently stylised, neo-Rococo and exotically theatrical tions to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s In Powder and Crinoline, Fairy Tales (1912) and PC Asbj0msen and Jorgen Moe’s East Sun, West of the Moon (1914) directly anticipate Clarke’s.

Aware of Clarke’s skills as a ‘craftsman who devotes drawing’ the same marvellous ‘infinity of pains’ that to his stained glass, which had already won him critical Harraps perhaps hoped to pitch him as their new ‘Celtic’ to the ‘Nordic’ flavour of Nielsen’s evocative imagery, they promoted their other recent discovery, the Hungarian Pogafiy, as a rival to Dulac. Clarke was not unique in ing decorative and compositional elements from Beardsley, Indian and Persian miniatures, Japanese prints, Ballets Russes and the decorative vocabulary of rococo-and its revivalist successor, Art Nouveau; to these he Elizabethan miniature and Russian folk tale illustrations was, however, unusual in working simultaneously with a high degree of skill, imagination and original ity in both stained glass and graphic illustration at such an early age, in a narrative idiom.

After incorporating tiny, intriguing figures into the Honan Chapel windows for Cork on which he was working at the same time as the Hans Andersen commission,(9) he soon began to transpose his minia ture painting technique into a series of unique small, autonomous glass figural panels. By microscopi cally painting, plating, etching and staining two pieces of ‘flashed’ glass, one ruby, the other blue, reg istered against each other, he was able to produce a range of tones and ‘effects – and in a technique – undreamt of by his predessors’ with a delicacy ‘hardly to be surpassed with the finest pen and the most fluid ink on smoothest Bristol board’.”(10)

No doubt what is most striking about these illustrations is the exuberantly inventive pattern visible everywhere, and the sumptuously rich colour combinations

For example, this newly discovered Hans Andersen series includes Clarke’s first published colour illustration, for The Swineherd (Fig 1), on which he started working in London on 4 February 1914, as he recorded in his diary. In 1917, he would adapt this into the beguiling virtuoso cabinet panel illustrating Walter de la Mare’s poem, The Song of the Mad Prince (coll. NGI), that he made specially for Thomas Bodkin, barrister, art connoisseur and future director of the National Gallery of Ireland. Similarly, he would use the oval format he strikingly intersects in his early 1914 frontispiece illustration for The Hardy Tin Soldier (Fig 7) – “Tin Soldier!’, said the Goblin, ‘Don’t stare at things that don’t concern you!’ – for his beguiling stained glass illustration of Heinrich Heine’s ominous poem, The Meeting (NMI) in 1918. Perhaps the most beautiful of all the illustrations here, from late 1915, is for The Elf-Hill (Fig 2) ‘They danced with shawls which were woven of mist and moonshine’ – which depicts three elegant, pale, elfin dancers in decollete, cobwebby gowns with pendant earrings and billowing red hair. Their dramatic colouring is reminiscent of Clarke’s St Gobnait of Ballyvourney (1916) in the Honan Chapel, the submarine excrescence above which they dance would reappear less ethereally in Clarke’s Orders of Architecture windows (1927) for Bewley’s Cafe in Grafton Street, while the supernatural realm the elfin goddesses inhabit anticipates the woodland glade in which Titania beguiles Bottom in the haunting Midsummer Night’s Dream stained glass panel of 1922. Closest to the elaborately costumed, hieratic Snow Queen (Fig 3) and the coy yet fancifully attired Shepherdess and the Chimney-Sweeper (Fig 4) are the processional figures of J M Synge’s Queens, the poem Clarke illustrated in nine cabinet panels on blue, ruby and gold-pink glass in 1916 (see IAR, Summer 2006).

Contemporary with these illustrations of elaborately attired marionette-like divas are those for slightly larger scale calendars he designed: in 1914, The Lady of the Decoration, for the Glasgow paint manufacturer, James Duthie; and in 1915, two symbolic depictions of Hibemia, for the Hibernian Fire and General Insurance Company. The Hans Andersen illustrations shown here reveal the inspiration of the travelling scholarship he received in 1914 to look at medieval stained glass in France while working on this commission, as evidenced by the deep blues and rubies, and oranges and yellows offset with grisaille lacey greys. No doubt what is most striking about these illustrations is the exuberantly inventive pattern visible everywhere, and the sump tuously rich colour combinations of the exotically detailed cos tumes, headdresses, jewellery and footwear of the characters Clarke depicts. Full-scale or tiny, masked, wide-eyed, dreaming, coy, alluring or fiendish, stiffly posing or lyrically floating, they are set against idiosyncratic theatrical backdrops concocted from his fertile imagination. From their impossibly tapering, rouged fingers to their slender narrow feet, whether flying diagonally through the air drawn by beribboned swans or posturing in spurred Cordoban boots, they draw the viewer into a magical world entirely of the artist’s making. Three years later, the pictorial devices he conjures up here to ‘choreograph’ the picture frame would be dramatically developed in his alternately beautiful and macabre iconic illustra tions to Edgar Allen Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

Photography courtesy The Fine Art Society, London.
NICOLA GORDON BOWE is author of The Life and Work of Harry Clarke (1989).

1 The only original published coloured illustration for Hans Andersen in perfect condition that the author has seen being the exquisite oval, ‘Dancing over the floor as no one had yet danced’ from The Little Sea Maid, sold recently from a private American collection at Christie’s (London). Other than that, ‘She is fat – she is pretty – she is fed with nut-kernels’ from The Snow Queen, in poor condition, is in a French private collection.

2 One reviewer commented that admirers of his stained glass would scarcely recognise ‘Mr. Clarke’s jewels’ in the fuzzy, reduced plates (Studies, Vol. VI, no. 22, p. 299).

3 See Harry Clarke 1889-1931: Ten Original Illustrations for Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales (London, 2008), published for the exhibi tion, ‘Harry Clarke: Original Drawings for Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales’, The Fine Art Society, London 4 June to 2 July 2008.

4 Between 20 September 1994 and 22 January 1995 from the A. & M. Shands collection (see M. M. Steenson, A Bibliographical Checklist of the work of Harry Clarke (London, 2003), p. 21).

5 George G.Harrap, Some Memories 1901-1935 (London, 1935).

6 The book was published in three editions: at 20/- boxed, full leather for 30/- and in a signed, limited edition of 125 copies on vellum at 3gns. For the variants, see Steenson, op.cit.

7 Harraps’ prospectus, quoting their advertisement in the Christmas supplement of The Bookman (1916, no. 50, p.84) issued to promote the pub lication of the book.

8 For an example of the influence of Dulac on Clarke in his illustration for The Nightingale, see Nicola Gordon Bowe, Jhe Life and Work of Harry Clarke (Dublin, 1989), p. 32, figs. 42 and 43.

9 He drew his first designs for the Honan Chapel in October and November 1914.

10 Thomas Bodkin, ‘The Art of Mr. Harry Clarke’ in

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Shifting Sands

Tom Climent’s recent paintings appear to edge more and more away from pure abstraction, writes Mark Ewart

Tom Climent’s studio is situated in the heart of Cork city, amidst an enclave of old churches and sites of cultural and historical importance. The nearby Elizabeth Fort, a 17th-century star-shaped structure, feels like it could be a three-dimensional embodiment of his geometric paintings. His rich palette of sumptuous colour sings with luminosity and wonder, ethereal cathedrals of kaleidoscopic light that soar ever upwards.

Tom Climent, Solomon Fine Art, 23 July – 29 August

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Janet Mullarney 1952-2020

Janet Mullarney 1952-2020 (Photo Brian Meade).

 

The Irish Arts Review mourns the loss of Dublin-born sculptor Janet Mullarney who passed away earlier this month, after a long illness, at her home in Italy. A member of Aosdána and the Royal Hibernian Academy, Mullarney was one of the foremost sculptors of her generation.

The Irish Arts Review remembers Janet Mullarney:

In the IAR Autumn 2003 edition, Nicola Gordon Bowe writes that ‘she has applied her finely tuned, skilful craftsmanship to figurative sculpture of considerable emotional intensity, mirroring our deepest fears, inhibitions and aspirations without any trace of sentimentality’.

In the IAR Autumn 2010 edition, Cliodhna Shaffrey previews her two exhibitions ‘things made’ at the RHA, and ‘things done’ at the Taylor Galleries, and finds that ‘Her sculptures carry within these strange and timeless presences of animal with human forms, a connection to archaic roots, and primal forces, which seem lodged deep in evolutionary genes and the blueprint of our DNA’.

Janet Mullarney’s 2015 exhibition ‘My minds i’ was launched at the Highlanes Gallery in Drogheda and later in the year exhibited at the Butler Gallery in Kilkenny. In the IAR Winter 2015 edition, William Gallagher writes that ‘Mullarney has proved her prowess with large sculpture and traditional (even classical form)…As galleries grow bigger with gigantic artworks to fill them, Mullarney’s (sculptures) grow smaller, suggesting the greatest space is that of the imagination….Mullarney has repeatedly battled constraints ranged against the imagination – church, family, fashions in art – and it has forged her authority as a voice.’

Janet Mullarney, R.I.P.

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Bonhams 25 March 2020

William Crozier

William Crozier (1930-2011) Summer Storm 2005 oil on canvas 41 x 51cm

William Crozier is an artist who defies categorisation. He was born in Glasgow to Irish parents and, in the latter part of his life, lived near Ballydehob in West Cork. He was proud of his Irish roots and became an Irish citizen as a gesture of solidarity when British troops moved into Northern Ireland. Despite his roots, he fits into neither the Scottish Colourist nor the Irish landscape tradition. There are similarities to the German Expressionist Emil Nolde and Picasso was certainly an early influence. Crozier liked to be judged within the context of European art and he was also much influenced by literature and particularly the Existential movement. He spent time in Paris on the periphery of a group presided over by Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

Crozier is best known for his brightly coloured landscapes, which have been refined and reduced to flat patterns of colour. These bear little relationship to the locations referred to in their titles – nor are they meant to. Crozier asserted: ‘Landscape is not the subject, it is the vehicle through which I can express intangible things. Things which have no narrative. Loss, memory – all can be done through the language of landscape.’

William Crozier (1930-2011) Garden Storm 2005 oil on canvas 40.6 x 51cm

Two of Crozier’s later works are on offer at Bonhams British and Irish Art sale. Both were painted in 2005, probably in the Haute Provence or following a visit there. (After a disastrous fire in his Hampshire studio in 2001, a friend offered him a house in the Provence and he spent many subsequent summers there.) The works from that location, perhaps influenced by the blinding brightness of the Provençal sun, are reduced further to a classical simplicity. Summer Storm and Garden Storm are two very fine examples of Crozier’s late period and are both guiding at a modest £5,000 to £7,000.

John P O’Sullivan

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Preview: De Veres 31 March 2020

Peter Curling

Peter Curling The Paddock at Kilfeacle, The scarteen point to point c.2004 oil on canvas 76 x 99cm

Peter Curling has followed a somewhat unconventional path as an artist. He was born in Waterford, but moved to England when he was eight years old. He must have been something of a child prodigy because at the ripe old age of fourteen he had his first exhibition at Lambourn in West Berkshire, a major English racing centre. His formal art education began at seventeen and consisted of three years with the famed Signorina Nera Simi in Florence. She followed the traditional atelier method and he would have emerged well-schooled in the disciplines required for representational art. He also spent a brief period in England working with the illustrious equine painter John Skeaping.

He returned to Ireland in 1975 and set up shop in Goold’s Cross, near Cashel – serious racing country. He has carved out a very successful career, establishing himself as Ireland’s pre-eminent equine artist. His paintings, full of character and colorful detail, show horses at race-meetings, at exercise and hunting. Curling’s is a bucolic, non-contentious vision, far removed from the heroic creatures you find in Jack B Yeats’ work or the more painterly animals depicted by Basil Blackshaw. Curling does well at auction, however, and in the boom days he was regularly selling for over €50,000. His highest result on record was Summer Exercise, Killeens, which sold for €82,000 at Adam’s in 2006.

De Veres 31 March sale features The Paddock at Kilfeacle, The Scarteen point to point, a typical example of his work. The roughness of the ground and the temporary railings reveal it’s a point-to-point meeting rather than an event at one of the major tracks. This prime example of Curling’s work is guiding at €20,000 to €30,000.

At the same auction, there’s a painting by Martin Gale – a name that is suggestive of horse racing (a martingale is a device used to control the head carriage of a horse) and he is in fact the son of a successful amateur jockey. Gale has done many horse paintings in his time, but his painting Fieldwork (€3,000 to €5,000) focuses on a pickup truck heading down a narrow path beside a muddy field. It’s carrying a large speaker in the back – so it’s embarking on some errand. Gale specialises in paintings of the countryside going about its business, often with a sense of mystery as to what that business is.

John P O’Sullivan

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Auctions in 2019

Adam’s 27.03.2019 Important Irish Art
Adam’s 12.06.2019 Important Irish Art
Adam’s 25.09.2019 Important Irish Art
Adam’s 15.10.2019 Country House Collection
Adam’s 23.10.2019 The Antoinette & Patrick J. Murphy Collection
Adam’s 19.11.2019 Mid Century Modern
Adam’s 04.12.2019 Important Irish Art
Adam’s 15.12.2019 At Home
Bonham’s 20.02.2019 19th Century European, Victorian and British Impressionist Art
Bonham’s 06.03.2019 Post War and Contemporary Art
Bonham’s 12.06.2019 Modern British & Irish Art
Bonham’s 03.07.2019 Modern British & Irish Art
Bonham’s 20.11.2019 Modern British & Irish Art
Bonham’s 27.11.2019 Modern British & Irish Art
Christie’s 09.04.2019 Modern British & Irish Art
Christie’s 17.06.2019 Modern British Art Evening Sale
Christie’s 18.06.2019 Modern British Art Day Sale
Christie’s 21.11.2019 British & Irish Art Art
De Veres 10.02.2019 The Townhouse Auction
De Veres 26.03.2019 Irish Art Auction
De Veres 11.06.2019 Irish Art & Sculpture Auction
De Veres 08.10.2019 Irish Art Auction
De Veres 26.11.2019 Outstanding Irish Art Auction
Gomley’s 12.03.2019 March Irish Art Auction
Gomley’s 18.06.2019 Summer Irish Art Auction
Gomley’s 17.09.2019 September Irish Art Auction
Gomley’s 03.12.2019 December Irish Art Auction
Morgan O’Driscoll 21.01.2019 Irish Art Online
Morgan O’Driscoll 11.03.2019 Irish Art Online
Morgan O’Driscoll 29.04.2019 Irish & International Art Auction
Morgan O’Driscoll 20.05.2019 Irish Art Online
Morgan O’Driscoll 24.06.2019 Irish Art Online
Morgan O’Driscoll 06.08.2019 Irish Art Online
Morgan O’Driscoll 23.09.2019 Irish Art Online
Morgan O’Driscoll 21.09.2019 Irish & International Art Auction
Whyte’s 04.03.2019 Irish & International Art
Whyte’s 27.05.2019 Important Irish Art
Whyte’s 16.09.2019 Irish & International Art
Whyte’s 25.11.2019 The Ernie O’ Malley Collection in associaiton with Christie’s
Whyte’s 02.12.2019 Irish & International Art
Sotheby’s 09.11.2019 Irish Art
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Speaking crow

Visiting Margo Banks’ studio in North Dublin on a clear winter’s day, I am just close enough to open fields and the shoreline to understand the artist’s deep connection with the countryside and its fauna. The studio is home too, a place where she is rooted by family and work. The house is full of drawings and paintings and old things belonging to her parents. The trees in the garden, planted by her father, resound with the raucous caws of the rooks and crows that Banks loves to depict. Her roots go deeper than here though, through her mother’s people, to a remoter, wilder place in Co Kerry.

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Review of Results for Irish Art at Auction in 2019

 

The upward trend in auction prices continued in 2019 with the Jack B Yeats, Paul Henry, and William Scott monopolising the highest prices, and some of our living artists achieving their best ever results. According to Ian Whyte, 2019 was Whyte’s best year since the halcyon days of 2007. The outstanding Ernie O’Malley collection with its treasure trove of Jack B Yeats paintings was presumably a major factor here. Arabella Bishop, head of Sotheby’s Ireland, also reported a good year and was optimistic for the future: ‘Our Irish Art sale in 2019 achieved the highest result since our re-introduction of a dedicated Irish Art sale in 2015. We are seeing a growing demand among collectors, many of those new to the market, nationally and internationally, and we expect this trend to continue in 2020.We are seeing clients increasingly more willing to put good quality works on market.’

Overall, 2019 was dominated by Yeats with seven of the top ten prices at Irish auction houses and eight of the top ten in the UK going to paintings by our greatest artist.

Overall, 2019 was dominated by Yeats with seven of the top ten prices at Irish auction houses and eight of the top ten in the UK going to paintings by our greatest artist. The highest price at auction in 2019 was the €1,4000,000 paid for Reverie by Yeats, followed by €1,300,000 for Evening in Spring, also by Yeats – both sold at Whyte’s (in association with Christie’s). These were the fourth and fifth highest prices ever achieved by Yeats and you have to go back twenty years to find any comparable prices. It’s quite a jump to the next highest price in 2019, and again it’s by Yeats; A Paris of the West sold at Sotheby’s in November for £550,000. The highest price paid for Paul Henry in 2019 was the €185,000 for Evening in Achill at Morgan O’Driscoll. Sotheby’s and Adam’s also sold a number of Henry’s for six figure sums. William Scott also enjoyed another good year. White with Black Predominating sold at Sotheby’s in November for £220,000 and Blue, White and Yellow yielded £190,000 at Christie’s in October. RTÉ parted with a substantial William Scott as part of its fund-raising efforts. Abstract Painting went under the hammer at Sotheby’s for £150,000.

There were rich pickings to be had from the Antoinette and Patrick J Murphy collection at auction in Adam’s in October. Its listings were a roll call of most of the significant Irish artists of the past 100 years – including most of our important female artists. They had a number of particularly fine works by Mary Swanzy – an artist whom Pat Murphy did much to promote. While she never came close to her auction record of €180,000 (for Cubist Landscape with Red Pagoda and Bridge in 2006), she did achieve some substantial prices. The best of these was the €90,000 for her cubist masterpiece The White Tower. A striking piece by the indomitable Camille Souter also did well. Her Slaughtered Cow Ten Minutes Dead was not for the faint-hearted, but it attracted a meaty €22,000. Another notable sale at this auction was the €48,000 paid for Patrick Collins’ Sligo Landscape – well above its €20,000 to €30,000 estimate. Collins has been performing poorly at auction in recent times and this was his best price since 2007. It’s a reminder that interest in this most accomplished artist hasn’t gone away.  In addition to Mary Swanzy, Irish female artists generally did well in 2019. There was a world record price (€110,000) paid for the The Land Eire by Mainie Jellett at the O’Malley sale in Whyte’s, and May Guinness’s Woman with Red Hair exceeded its pre-sale guide of €6,000-€8,000 with a  hammer price of €34,000 – another auction record for that artist.

There were a few unfamiliar figures amongst the top selling artists. Gabriel Hayes is not a name that trips from the tongue of the average art lover and her paintings very rarely come on the market. Only three of her works have appeared at auction over the years. Yet most of us have actually handled her work without knowing it. She designed the original Irish decimal currency in 1971, taking inspiration from the Book of Kells. She’s best known as a sculptor and a bas relief by her can be seen on the façade of the building that houses the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht on Kildare Street. Her painting The Cork Bowler was sold for £65,000 at Sotheby’s – more than twice the lower end of its guide price. Stanhope Alexander Forbes, another less well-known figure had two paintings in the top ten best sellers. The Bridge sold for £75,000 and The Smith’s Workshop for £30,000 – both at Bonhams. Although born in Dublin in 1857, Forbes Irish connections are at best tenuous. His father was English and his mother French and he moved to London when he was a child. He returned briefly as an adult and he painted some landscapes around Galway but his primary affiliations were with Cornwall and he’s referred to as the father of the Newlyn school of painting.

There are very few appearances by living artists amongst the top selling works at any of the auction houses. A notable exception is Dublin sculptor Rowan Gillespie who achieved two of his three best ever results in 2019. His Failing Better went for €64,173 at Sotheby’s in November and Portrait of a Dreamer yielded €67,500 at de Vere’s in June. Sotheby’s November auction also yielded a record price for Hughie O’Donoghue. The Owl Run, A beautifully composed, bird’s eye perspective of a nocturnal landscape sold for €87,500 – more than three times its upper guide price. It was painted in 2013 and bought that year from the Marlborough Gallery in London. The only other living artist to appear in the upper ranks was John Shinnors, whose Loop Head – Still morning, Windy Evening sold for €34,000 at Morgan O’Driscoll in October. This is still some way short of Shinnor’s best price of €70,000 achieved in 2008.

There is no doubt that the trend in 2019, notwithstanding the gloomy prognostications about Brexit, was upwards. However, expectations should be constrained as 2019 may prove to be something of an outlier because of the very high quality of a number of the collections that came under the hammer. Mild optimism is the furthest I’d venture.

John P O’Sullivan
February 2020

Irish Top 10
Whyte’s in association with Christie’s Jack Butler Yeats Reverie 25.11.2019 €1,400,000
Whyte’s in association with Christie’s Jack Butler Yeats Evening in Spring 25.11.2019 €1,300,000
Whyte’s in association with Christie’s Jack Butler Yeats The Enfolding Night 25.11.2019 €520,000
Whyte’s in association with Christie’s Jack Butler Yeats Death for Only One 25.11.2019 €470,000
Whyte’s in association with Christie’s Jack Butler Yeats The Fighting Dawn 25.11.2019 €320,000
Whyte’s Louis le Brocquy Image of Samuel Beckett 16.09.2019 €210,000
Morgan O’ Driscoll Paul Henry Evening in Achill 29.04.2019 € 185,000
De Veres Jack Butler Yeats Tralee 26.03.2019 €180,000
Morgan O’ Driscoll Jack Butler Yeats The Derelict Ship 21.10.2019 € 175,000
Adam’s William Scott Red and Red (WS119) 04.12.2019 €150,000

Overall Top UK Results
Whyte’s in association with Christies Jack Butler Yeats Reverie  25.11.2019 €1,400,000
Whyte’s in association with Christies Jack Butler Yeats,  Evening in Spring  25.11.2019 €1,300,000
Sotheby’s Jack Butler Yeats A Paris of the West/A Paris come to Judgement in the West 19.11.2019 £550,000
Whyte’s in association with Christies Jack Butler Yeats  The Enfolding Night  25.11.2019 €520,000
Whyte’s in association with Christies Jack Butler Yeats  Death for only one  25.11.2019 €470,000
Whyte’s in association with Christies Jack Butler Yeats  The Fighting Dawn  25.11.2019 €320,000
Christies Roderic O’Conor  Breton Boy in Profile  17.06.2019 £340,000
Sotheby’s Jack Butler Yeats The Man in the Moon has Patience 19.11.2019 £260,000
Sotheby’s William Scott White with Black Predominating 19.11.2019 £220,000
Sothebys Jack Butler Yeats The Stevedore 19.11.2019 £180,000

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The Irish Tower House Society, economy and environment c.1300–1650

The Irish Tower House Society, economy and environment c.1300–1650
Victoria L McAlister
Manchester University Press, 2019
pp 288 illustrated h/b
£80.00/€95.00 ISBN: 978-1-52612-123-3
Tadhg O’Keeffe

The tower house, popularly defined as the fortified residence of a later medieval lord, is unquestionably the single most familiar monument type to survive in the Irish landscape from the Middle Ages. Tower houses are found all over Ireland, but are especially common in the southern half of the island, in an arc that swings from Galway, south-eastwards across Clare and Limerick, through Cork and Tipperary, towards Kilkenny and Wexford, and northwards towards the former lands of the Pale. Examples are found along the entire coastline where it is possible to make landfall. They are also common in towns of medieval origin; such towns that lack tower houses today had them originally. Thousands were built between the 14th century and the early 17th century, with peaks in the 15th and 16th centuries.

For a long time, the popular narrative has placed endemic violence at the centre of the explanation for the proliferation of these towers. That they were defensible cannot be queried, nor can the assertion that they kept their occupants safe. But the narrative has never really been convincing. The loss of other domestic structures associated with them – halls for dining and administration, and agricultural buildings – has made the towers appear more military than was the case. In any case, Ireland was peaceful and prosperous for long stretches of the period in which towers were built. Victoria McAlister’s new book – remarkably, the first book to be devoted to a study of this ubiquitous monument type – should put the ‘endemic violence’ narrative to bed, if not send it to the grave. She locates the building boom within the context of an economy in which money could be made by enterprising agriculturalists, merchants and entrepreneurs. Her argument makes sense as she starts to unfold it; by the end of the book, the case is made.

The meat of the book is contained in six chapters. Chapter one places the tower house within its settlement context. McAlister succeeds in showing that the towers were active rather than passive in the evolution of the settlement landscape; she argues that, in essence, the towers are better understood not as responses to pressures on the landscape and its occupants, but as agents of nucleation in ever-developing landscapes. In the next chapter, she considers the economic context in which towers were built. It has long been clear that the towers functioned with an agricultural economy, but McAlister clears away a popular misconception; that the economy was not as strongly pastoral as has long been maintained. The evidence that it was a mixed agricultural economy is scattered across various types of source material and she marshalls that evidence well.

McAlister argues that, in essence, the towers are better understood not as responses to pressures on the landscape and its occupants, but as agents of nucleation in ever-developing landscapes

Chapters three and four address the movement of goods; the role of the natural environment directed how and to where goods moved, and the role of the tower house in the process. Refreshingly, McAlister shows that towers were built along rivers and in certain coastal locations, not solely for the purpose of monitoring movements and protecting settlements, but rather by landowners and entrepreneurs who saw economic opportunity in placing their towers in certain positions. The suggestion that tower house distribution relates to transport and trade is not earth-shattering, but this is the first time that the evidence is laid out properly.

That the penultimate chapter should bring us back into towns, to urban tower houses, is entirely appropriate, given that the final chapter discusses Ireland in the context of international trade networks, which were made possible through urbanisation.

McAlister’s book is not a ‘castle book’ in the tradition of the famous castle books of the past (such as by Harold Leask in 1941, Tom McNeill in 1997 or David Sweetman in 1999). It does not describe buildings in detail, nor does it adhere to the canon. Some well-known tower houses barely feature; some little-known towers are given their fifteen minutes. Relatively little is said about their origins and recent debates on the use of the internal spaces are avoided. To an extent, this is refreshing, but I think that McAlister’s opinions on such matters would be worth hearing at length, given that she has been to see so many towers. Critical reading reveals some circular thinking – her sample of sites does seem to predetermine her results – but one instinctively knows her analysis to be correct.

This book deserves to be read and absorbed by anybody interested in medieval Ireland, its architecture and its economy. McAlister is to be congratulated.

Tadhg O’Keeffe is a Professor in the School of Archaeology at University College Dublin.

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