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