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Best-sellers List: Norah O'Kelly in our Irish Art Sale

September 29, 2023

Selling at €12,000 (well above its estimate of €800 - 1,200) in our most recent Important Irish Art sale is Norah O’Kelly’s Hermes, a piece showcasing her proficiency working with a range of materials including enamel and metal early on in her artistic career. Not much is known of Norah’s life or career outside of what can be gained from inscriptions on her various works – the back of the panel tells us that she was a student of class 6019 in the Dublin School of Art under Percy Oswald Reeves, an enameller and metalworker from England who had moved to Dublin in 1902. A leather-bound journal belonging to O’Kelly (lot 142) also contains reference to Reeves, with verses handwritten by him, Letitia and Eva Hamilton, and Michael J. Ryan, as well as drawings by Sir William Orpen and Harry Clarke.

The note on O’Kelly in our Auction Catalogue is as follows:

‘The Dublin Metropolitan School of Art was very well known for its enamel and stained-glass departments, which were both hugely popular art forms in Ireland. As a result, the Irish Arts and Crafts movement flourished in the early part of the 20thcentury.

Mythology and symbolism are key elements of the enamel and metalwork art of the period. As a medium it as often championed by women who excelled in this artform, elevating the individual and handmade objects. The central panel of this work depicts the Greek god Hermes, standing with his caduceus in one hand and with a satchel slung across his body. His head and feet are adorned with wings as he seems to float above the landscape behind him. The sky is filled with deep blue and turquoise tones, teeming with swimming fish and a majestic lion, while stars light up the background. It is mounted on a wooden shield shaped plaque, with scrolling vacant reserves that were possibly meant to be engraved with a title and the artist’s name or dedication if it was a private commission, but these are details that we can only speculate at.

This enamel panel is a wonderful example of O’Kelly’s early practice, and it is a rare opportunity to see it offered on the auction market.’

Niamh Corcoran, September 2023

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Niamh Corcoran
Fine Art Department

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