Summary of the 2013 Irish Art Market

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Auction review
John Mulcahy reports from the auction rooms where new records were set for reliable masters Paul Henry and Walter Osborne

What would the Irish art market do without Paul Henry? During 2013, the top first, third and fourth sales at Adam’s were by Paul Henry. In Whyte’s, he scored first and third. At deVeres he was second and in Bonham’s Irish sale he scored first and second. In value terms, after adding the standard commissions of 20%, the above four houses took in approx €1.5 million on Paul Henry sales alone. Significantly one his best known pictures, The Potato Diggers, painted in 1910/11, accounted for almost one third of this total when sold at Adam’s on 29 May 2013 for the new record price of €400,000.

But what does this tell us about the taste of Irish collectors? Well obviously it is conservative. Henry’s peaceful and nostalgic images of the West of Ireland still provide a comforting reminder of the Isle of Saints and Scholars as reassuring as that ever-popular image of the Sacred Heart over the front door or indeed of John F Kennedy. But if market prices are to be taken as the real measure of an artist’s attraction, then Henry still has a lot of catching up to do on Jack Yeats in effectively leading the auction market.

Overall, the Irish art market in 2013 was unremarkable for most of the year with total sales of the top three Irish auctioneers running close to the previous year’s turnover. No really big surprises, rather a sense of relief that the economic climate had not resulted in any dumping of pictures from distressed quarters. The highest single price paid was for Walter Osborne’s The Ferry which fetched €490,000 at deVeres November sale but this perhaps was the highest price because no major work by Jack Yeats came to the market in 2013. The highest price paid for Yeats last year was the €115,000 paid for his The Day’s First Customer at Adam’s December sale. In 2012, Yeats’ A Fair Day, Mayo made an astonishing €1million and his Jazz Babes fetched €480,000, both of these achieved at Adam’s. Only one important Roderic O Conor came to the Irish market and still no example of a large Sean Scully canvas to test the market here for his work, which attracts such high prices in London.

At Adam’s, the €400,000 paid for The Potato Diggers was not just a new record for that artist but confirmation that, despite the continuing recession, there is money in collectors’ pockets for iconic pictures of this quality. Roderic O’Conor’s painting The Farm, Provence made €170.000 and Walter Osborne’s A Grey Morning in a Breton Farmyard fetched €100,000. One surprise result was the €100,000 paid for Erskine Nicol’s A Shebeen at Donnybrook which creates a new record for this artist. Another surprise at a lower price range was the €23,000 paid for Estella Solomons’ Three at Table which doubled the estimate and indeed doubled her previous market high which was €12,000 paid for Two Boys on a Height in 2012. (For more on Estella Solomons see Hilary Pyle ‘Notes from Estella’ in Irish Arts Review Spring 2008 pp 96-99). A final point of interest in Adam’s sales was the €80,000 paid for Louis le Brocquy’s tapestry originally called Irish Tinkers amended now to the more politically correct Travellers. Compared to the extravagant prices paid for some of his oils a few years ago, these 1948 tapestries woven by Tabard in Aubusson have stood the test of time and are really great value. Adam’s saw their Irish Art turnover rise by 12.5% to €4.9 million even though they sold fewer lots. The percentage of the lots sold rose from 80% to 83%.

Table 1: Adam’s Top Results for 2013
1 HENRY Paul The Potato Diggers 29.05.2013 Lot 21
2 O’ CONOR Roderic The Farm, Provence 25.09.2013 Lot 39
3 HENRY Paul The Lobster Fisher at Dusk 25.09.2013 Lot 22
4 HENRY Paul Thatched Cottages 29.05.2013 Lot 22
5 YEATS Jack Butler The Day’s First Customer 04.12.2013 Lot 100
6 OSBORNE Walter Frederick A Grey Morning in a Breton Farmyard 29.05.2013 Lot 44
7 NICOL Erskine A Shebeen at Donnybrook 25.09.2013 Lot 11
8 DILLON Gerard The Jockey 04.12.2013 Lot 57
9 LEECH William John A French Quayside 29.05.2013 Lot 33
10 KEATING Sean Pipers and Porter 04.12.2013 Lot 84

Walter Osborne’s The Ferry was not just the top selling picture of 2013 on the Irish market – it was the star of deVere’s fortunes for the year. Although below the record price for an Osborne, achieved for his In the Garden at Adam’s in 2001, it represented 20% more than the other top nine sales recorded at deVeres during the year. Contacts in the right places are all-important in the art business as the late Desmond FitzGerald proved so successfully for Christie’s during his tenure there. John deVere’s single contact that produced The Ferry for sale yielded about 18% of deVere’s entire art business in 2013. Also interesting in deVere’s list was that there were three living Irish artists in its top ten sales (see Table). Not that any of these went close to record prices for these artists but it is reassuring to see Donald Teskey’s From Galley Head fetching €25,000 and Peter Curling’s The Head Lad attracting €30,000. Basil Blackshaw, of course, is always a sure seller and it was no surprise that his Tommy Orr, Blacksmith fetched €33,000. However it is sobering to recall that his To the Gallop was sold for as much as £160,000 at Ross’s in Belfast in 2001. DeVeres turnover for the year increased to €2.8million compared to the €1.7million recorded in the previous year.

Table 2: deVeres Top Results for 2013
1 OSBORNE Walter Frederick The Ferry 27.11.2013 Lot 39
2 HENRY Paul The Wind Blown Tree, Killary Harbour 27.11.2013 Lot 15
3 MIDDLETON Colin The Washing Line 27.11.2013 Lot 33
4 DILLON Gerard Aran Horsemen 27.11.2013 Lot 29
5 LAVERY Sir John The Walnut Tree 27.11.2013 Lot 55
6 BLACKSHAW Basil Tommy Orr, Blacksmith 27.11.2013 Lot 34
7 SCOTT William Green Pears and Pan 14.05.2013 Lot 16
8 CURLING Peter The Head Lad 27.11.2013 Lot 39a
9 TESKEY Donald From Galley Head 27.11.2013 Lot 24
10 SOUTER Camille Dreaming 27.11.2013 Lot 12

The stock in trade for Whyte’s auctions is below the €100,000 mark and 2013 was no exception with Paul Henry’s The Lake topping the bill at €93,000. Three other Paul Henry’s featured in Whyte’s top ten (see Table) for the year all in the €40/50,000 price range. A feature of Whyte’s business now is their increasing interest in auctions of related collectibles such as coins (Ian Whyte’s original area of expertize) posters, militaria, art books and items of historical interest. Whyte’s total turnover in 2013 was €4m which was very similar to 2012.

Table 3: Whytes Top Results for 2013
1 HENRY Paul The Lake 25.11.2013 Lot 14
2 LAVERY Sir John The Lady Parmoor, 1919 30.09.2013 Lot 33
3 HENRY Paul Keel Village, Achill Island, 1911 04.03.2013 Lot 62
4 O’NEILL Daniel Two Women by the Sea 25.11.2013 Lot 67
5 HENRY Paul An Achill Bog 30.09.2013 Lot 18
6 HENRY Paul Western Landscape 25.11.2013 Lot 15
7 OSBORNE Walter Frederick A Corner of the Farmyard 30.09.2013 Lot 34
8 ORPEN Sir William Portrait of Captain David Brodie 30.09.2013 Lot 29
9 JELLETT Mainie Death of Procris 25.11.2013 Lot 52
10 MIDDLETON Colin Manna 04.03.2013 Lot 35

Turning to the British auction houses, Paul Henry again appears in the top three sales at Bonham’s (Where are they all coming from?). At their Modern British and Irish Art sale in May, Bonham’s achieved £30,000 for a medium-sized pastel by Scully dating from the mid 1980s and employing his signature horizontal and vertical stripes. At Christie’s, William Scott led the popularity stakes with no less than six of his works among the top ten sellers here. William Scott was, of course, in the news last year with his retrospective at the Ulster Museum – see too Irish Arts Review, Autumn ‘Beyond the Frying Pan’ by Sarah Whitfield pp 98-103. But it was John Lavery’s Tennis, Hotel Beau Site, Cannes which saved the day for Christie’s when it was knocked down at £740,000 – the highest price of the year for any Irish related artist. Sotheby’s also had three Paul Henry’s in their top ten but a characteristic work by Roderic O’Conor Red Rocks and Sea drew their top price at £220,000. Strangely no artworks from Sean Scully appeared in either Sotheby’s or Christie’s Irish sales in 2013 although in the previous year Christie’s sold about £1.75 million of his work and Sotheby’s £1 million.

Please note that sterling figures are shown at hammer price. Prior to 2013 sterling prices included the buyer’s premium.