Whyte’s: Louis le Brocquy

Louis le Brocquy HRHA (1916-2012) REACHING. HOMAGE TO JOHN MONTAGUE 1968 oil on canvas (hexaptych) 84×101.5cm

The most dramatic and unusual painting sold at Whyte’s very successful late February sale was Louis le Brocquy’s painting of the poet John Montague, Reaching, Homage to John Montague. This striking work achieved €80,000 which was twice the lower end of its guide price. Montague and le Brocquy were old friends, getting to know each other well in Paris during the 1960s. Le Brocquy would come up regularly from his home in the South of France and join the poet to view exhibitions and to socialise with Montague’s bohemian circle. There was strong mutual admiration and no surprise that le Brocquy should accord him the honour of a portrait alongside other notable Irish writers: Beckett, Shaw, Joyce and Heaney. Montague was famously uncomfortable living in the shadow of fellow Ulster poet Heaney, a younger man. This painting differs greatly from le Brocquy’s usual literary portraits. Montague mined his personal, often unhappy, history, for his poems and the image reflects this. It’s a hexaptych. The two dark central panels contain the brooding head of the poet and a reaching hand while the four white outside panels show four hands with flesh and bone exposed. After le Brocquy’s death, Montague wrote a tribute that referred admiringly to the artist’s literary heads. He described one as being ‘like the face of an Irish Prospero, conjuring spirits’. A description that could be applied to this powerful and original work. Coincidentally there was a painting of another Parisian friend of le Brocquy’s sold at this auction. His smaller water colour Image of Samuel Beckett also achieved an excellent result. This guided at €15,000/20,000 and sold for €27,000. Montague, Beckett and le Brocquy had much in common, not least the fact that these three Irishmen all found their artistic voices in France. Montague was a regular drinking companion of Beckett’s and it’s reasonable to assume that the poet, the playwright and the painter enjoyed the occasional tipple together.