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Leading Lots in Important Irish Art Sale

November 30, 2023

Our next Important Irish Art auction takes place on Wednesday 6th December. A diverse range of style and subject matter is covered by artists represented in this sale, including, amongst others, works by Harry Clarke, Jack Butler Yeats, Edward McGuire, William Sadler II, and James Arthur O’Connor.

Featured in the sale are two coloured illustrations by Harry Clarke (lots 57 &58). They mark a departure from his well-known intensely coloured jewel-like stained glass, and his dramatic black and white graphic illustrations. Dr David Caron reflects on both pieces in our catalogue:

‘The Colloquy of Monos and Una’ (Lot 57): ‘This illustration, The Colloquy of Monos and Una, comes from the expanded 1923 edition Edgar Allan Poe’s collection of stories: Tales of Mystery and Imagination (first published in 1919 by George G. Harrap and Company of London).The Colloquy of Monos and Una was conceived as a dialogue – or colloquy – between two lovers reunited after death; Una had only just joined Monos in the afterlife and her sombre mind still lingered on the mortal world, preoccupied with the thoughts that had filled her last days on earth, specifically how her lover Monos experienced his final hours. The narrative reflects on philosophical themes such as the relationship between knowledge and perception. Clarke depicts Monos and Una almost as one, with his hand gently supporting her arm, their heads inclined towards each other and almost touching, yet they both seem lost in their individual memories; it is an image that conveys both physical intimacy yet emotional distance. Their wide-eyed features and slender hands, typical of Clarke, emerge from their astonishing Art Deco-influenced costumes – reflecting Clarke’s interest in theatre – with a myriad of pleats, patterns, folds and tassels. Despite the obvious substance of their costumes, the erstwhile lovers hover above the earth, accompanied by a trail of curious companions who disappear into the cosmos.’

‘Hilda and Luvia – Lady Playing a Theorbo’ (Lot 58): ‘Although the colour palette may be less familiar, the exquisite drawing of the delicate female musician has all the hallmarks of Clarke’s finesse. Clarke depicts the musician in a vast skirt which occupies a third of the picture, its volume rivalling the mountain peaks behind. The floral details on the skirt’s fabric recall the designs he had made for sets of handkerchiefs commissioned by Sefton’s of Belfast a few years earlier. The musician is shown playing a theorbo, a member of the lute family which was popular during the Baroque music era (1600–1750) as part of a small basso continuo group or as a solo instrument as depicted here. While the instrument may be associated with the Baroque period, the style of skirt came into fashion in the eighteenth century, and the bobbed hairstyle more common in nineteenth or twentieth century though notably the unevenness of the hair cut is at variance to the sophistication of her costume. In the background one can see a fairy tale hilltop town with ogee domes and spires, but the spindly, bleak tree hints at the orient with its Japonisme style. This illustration shows Clarke in eclectic mode, happy to draw on a range of sources, influences and eras, and whip them into a delicate confection.’

Another highlight of this upcoming sale is Jack Butler Yeats’ ‘The Captain,’ (Lot 25), with an estimate of €100,000 – 150,000. The catalogue note was written by Dr Roisin Kennedy:

‘This composition is dominated by the figure of a youthful sailor standing looking over the side of his boat. The viewpoint is from below as if the viewer were standing on a quayside looking up. The sailor wears a cobalt blue jacket and cap, a black cravat and has a pink rose in his buttonhole. The latter suggests a farewell token from a lover or family member. The rose had specific significance for Yeats who kept the flower fastened to his easel. Aware of its nationalist symbolism, as exemplified in the allegorical Róisín Dubh, and the idea of speaking ‘sub rosa’ or in secret, the rose recurs in several of Yeats’s paintings and illustrations. The prominence of the flower in the painting suggests subterfuge and adds to the enigmatic aura of the subject. His erect stance and forward looking gaze indicate that despite his youth, he has command of his post and that he is vigilant. To the left, the open sea extends with a rocky island on the horizon. Silhouetted against the sky, the figure looks heroic but the complex construction of the painting disrupts such a simplistic reading. Thin flecks of blue pigment across the pale sky and the fragile construction of the figure’s head and torso, a mixture of impasto and sgraffito, such as where the lips and ear are outlined by lines scraped through the paint, make this a more complex and tangible work of art. The vagaries of time and memory are conveyed through the physicality of its surface and the tenuousness of its forms.’

The sale also features several Irish landscapes from the nineteenth century, a period which witnessed the emergence of a new tradition of landscape painting, pioneered by the romantic landscapes of James Arthur O’Connor. With an estimate of €30,000 – 40,000, Lot 29 is an example of his impressive work. The note in our catalogue is as follows:

One of the largest and most impressive works by the artist to come to market in recent decades – and prior to its rediscovery in a French private collection unknown to scholars and collectors alike – this is a truly magnificent example of Irish landscape art, unusual both in the grandeur of its conception and the bravura handling of paint in its execution. Impressive in scale, the landscape is at the same time a masterpiece of detail, palette and texture. It is perhaps best described as symphonic in the complex richness of its multi-layered surface, but somehow the disparate elements coalesce into a harmonious and pleasing whole. It surpasses all other works of the 1820s in the intricate complexity of its pattern making as various paths penetrate the picture plane. The play of light and shade as the eye is drawn by human activity into the forest – and back again – is only matched by the subtlety variegated palette as autumn imparts golden richness of tone to the verdure. O’Connor is one of the most capable and interesting of all Irish landscape painters, and comes close to matching the achievements of the eighteenth-century school: as one of his earliest biographers put it, ‘he was a poet with the brush, and exquisitely reproduced the impressions inspired by the more romantic and solemn aspects of nature.’

A piece by another Irish landscape painter, William Sadler II, is up for sale with an estimate of €10,000-15,000 (Lot 30):

‘Known particularly for his competent, atmospheric and topographically interesting views of the countryside around Dublin, Sadler remains an enigma in the history of 19th century Irish art. He is also credited as having taught painting and counted James Arthur O’Connor as one of his pupils. The present work is a wonderful atmospheric panorama of the Lower Lake at Killarney, one of the great beauty spots of Ireland. While the topography is somewhat fanciful, Ross Castle is readily identifiable beyond the party of pleasure seekers and tourists on the near shore. While views such as this are not uncommon in the artists oeuvre it is the scale and grandness of the view that sets the present apart from many others.’

Lot 43 is a portrait of Pearse Hutchinson by Edward McGuire, estimated at €15,000-25,000.Aidan Dunne writes about this piece in the catalogue:

This portrait of Pearse Hutchinson was painted by Edward McGuire at the beginning of a decade in which he completed the likenesses of a succession of major Irish literary figures. Hutchinson was one of the mid-century Irish literary set and became a fixture in Irish cultural life. But there remained something elusive, even fugitive about him. The word “unconventional” has been used in relation to his talent and fortunes - although he occupied an academic position for a time, he was too restless a spirit to pursue a career as such. That restlessness led to travels and sojourns in Europe, especially Spain, and extended to a linguistic restlessness: he was enamoured of languages and liked to lose himself in the possibilities they opened up. That included his “native” tongue, for he also wrote in Irish, feeling able to express himself more directly in the language. By the time he painted Hutchinson’s portrait, McGuire was fully mature as an artist. Enthused by the painters of the Florentine Renaissance, he developed a meticulous, highly realistic mode of painting. Working from precise preparatory drawings he made his highly distinctive paintings there with the aid of an elaborate colour dictionary, many years in the devising, which provided him with the formulae for a vast range of tonal colours. This painstaking method largely accounts for the exceptionally lustrous, rich quality of his paint surfaces. His painting have all the impact of, especially, Northern Renaissance portraiture, while being thoroughly modern.’

Viewings for the sale are in our St Stephen’s Green showroom as follows:

Friday 1st December: 10am –5pm
Saturday 2nd December: 1pm – 5pm
Sunday 3rd December: 1pm – 5pm
Monday 4th December: 10am-5pm
Tuesday 5th December: 10am – 3pm
Wednesday 6th December: 10am – 4pm

Please see our ‘Upcoming  Auctions’ page for more information on how to register, and to view the complete e-catalogue online.

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Niamh Corcoran
Fine Art Department

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Written by:
Niamh Corcoran
Fine Art Department
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Niamh Corcoran
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