Modern and Contemporary Irish Art Takes Centre Stage at Sotheby’s London and Dublin

Sotheby’s launches their first Modern and contemporary Irish art sale of the season. The annual sale in London on 13 September 2016 and at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin from 1-4 September, contains over 70-lots  which will be on public exhibition, prior to viewing in London. 

This year’s artists include: Sir John Lavery, Jack B. Yeats, Roderic O’Conor, Sir William Orpen, Paul Henry, Gerard Dillon, Mary Swanzy, Colin Middleton, F.E. McWilliam, Rowan Gillespie and Gottfried Helnwein. 

Highlights include, Sir John Lavery, Mary Borden and her Family at Bisham Abbey 1925, oil on canvas, 64 by 76cm. Estimate: £150,000-250,000 / €179,000-298,000 

Mary Borden and her Family at Bisham Abbey is arguably the most evocative of Lavery’s ‘portrait interiors’ representing writers. The painting shows Mary lost in reverie sitting in country house splendour in the grand salon at Bisham Abbey, while her four children quietly converse in the background. The artist and his easel can be seen in a reflection in the floor-length mirror on the far wall, which also gives us a back view of the sitter. Lavery’s depiction of Mary as an isolated figure reading a manuscript is poignant – having worked as a nurse during the First World War, she published poetry describing her harrowing experiences, and in 1929 printed a full account, entitled, The Forbidden Zone, A Nurse’s Impressions of the First World War. A wealthy American by birth, Mary developed a career as a novelist, publishing three books prior to Lavery’s visit in 1925 to Bisham Abbey. That same year, the painting formed part of the artist’s highly successful ‘portrait interiors’ exhibition in London. So significant was the show that Joseph Duveen imported it in its entirety for a North American tour, starting in his galleries on Fifth Avenue, New York. As a result, a new chapter in Lavery’s career began.  Sir John Lavery, Tangier 1919, oil on canvas, 25 by 30in. Estimate: £80,000-120,000 / €95,500-143,000 

January 1891 marked the beginning of John Lavery’s lifelong love affair with Tangier that even in old age remained indelible. He painted the beaches to the east and west of the medina on many occasions. In this work, a sunny morning – indicated by the directions of shadows on the sands – is recorded with remarkable acuity. The ever-changing clouds that swept through the Straits on a mild sirocco demanded speed and spontaneity. It is possible that the aerial view represents one of the vistas enjoyed from the flat rooftop of the Moorish villa built by Lavery’s old friend, Walter Harris, the Times correspondent. In each of the artist’s paintings of the bay, his palette subtly alters to reflect the time of day and viewpoint. 

Jack B. Yeats, Water Lilies 1930, oil on canvas, 46 by 61cm. Estimate: £100,000-150,000 / €120,000-179,000 

Painted in 1930, Water Lilies is a significant example of the bold expressive style Yeats had developed over the preceding years. This work is imbued with spontaneity and fluidity, the colour is vivid and riotous, and free flowing impasto is applied throughout. Executed at a time when Yeats was wholeheartedly embarking on a new language in paint, Water Lilies takes an imaginary subject for its composition – as was common for Yeats from the early 1930s onwards. A man and woman sit languidly in a small rowing boat as it drifts across the water, their hands draped over the side brushing the water lilies as they pass. Lyrical and poetic in tone, and distinctly romantic and intimate in feel, the painting shows Yeats in the formative stages of a new artistic journey. He forged a unique style that has elevated his work to a significant cultural position, not only within Ireland but also in a wider international context. 

Roderic O’Conor, Blue Sea and Red Rocks, Brittany Painted circa 1898-9, oil on canvas, 54 by 64cm. Estimate: £80,000-120,000 / €95,500-143,000 

Blue Sea and Red Rocks, Brittany remained in O’Conor’s studio all his life, before passing into an Australian private collection and remaining unseen for half a century. It now appears at auction for the first time. The painting dates from the artist’s critical 12year sojourn in Brittany, when he befriended Paul Gauguin and other members of the Pont-Aven School of Artists and painted many of his most important works. O’Conor’s depictions of the Breton coastline from the late 1890s broke new ground by relying on broad expanses of pure colour, contrasting the pink, crimson and orange rocks with the complimentary green and blue hues of the sea. In this work, the artist employs a vertiginous perspective from his elevated position and excludes the horizon line from his field of view – a compositional technique akin to that of the Japanese woodblock prints popular in the West at the time. Over a two-year period, O’Conor completed a series of over 30 seascapes in his quest for a progressive rendition of the Breton coastline. 

Sir William Orpen, The Fiddler, pencil, and watercolour, 67.5 by 47cm. Estimate: £60,000-80,000 / €71,500-95,500 

The Fiddler by William Orpen is one of a series of drawings produced for the artist’s large allegorical work The Western Wedding. The painting, exhibited in 1914, perished in a fire while in storage, and a fully worked up compositional study is also lost, making what remains – a series of drawings that relate to the figure groups – of intrinsic value to scholars and collectors. This eloquent drawing has emerged from a private collection where it has been since the 1960s. The composition relates to the central figure group comprising a barefoot fiddler with his vagabond family. Orpen’s draughtsmanship was hailed by his contemporaries, who invoked comparisons with Ingres and Leonardo. The drawings of this period demonstrate his instinctive and confident handling of the medium, and were so highly prized, the Chenil Gallery produced an extensive portfolio of facsimiles accompanied by a booklet of enthusiastic encomia. 

Gerard Dillon, Mending Nets, Aran, oil on canvas, 84.5 by 92cm. Estimate: £100,000-150,000 / €120,000-179,000 

Mending Nets, Aran is one of the largest and most impressive representations by Gerard Dillon of the Aran Islanders and their way of life. In the year in which the artist’s centenary birth is celebrated with an exhibition at the Ulster Museum in Belfast, this painting is a tour-de-force and testament to why Dillon is remembered as one of the most unique and visionary artists in 20th-century Ireland. The Aran Islands, located off the west coast of Ireland, have long held a fascination for artists and writers. At the turn of the 19th century, the tight-knit communities, the preservation of the Irish language and their traditional way of life intimately bound with the land and sea represented something wholly other, indeed sacred, from the modernity that was encroaching Ireland. Dillon’s naïve, child-like painting style imbued his work with an innocence, poetry and joy that is representative of both the Islanders way of life and Dillon’s response to them. Life in the West of Ireland represented a new freedom for Dillon, whose upbringing and adult life in Belfast and London was dogged by conflict. Though the nature and shape of the island’s communities had been changing as the 20th century advanced, they still preserved a magic and mystery that enthralled the artist, providing him with rich visual stories, in keeping with their rich storytelling tradition. 

Paul Henry, The Road by the Lake oil on canvas, 35.5 by 40.5cm. Estimate: £60,000-80,000 / €71,500-95,500 

Painted circa 1935-36, almost certainly in Connemara, The Road by the Lake can be considered as one of the best examples of Paul Henry’s last creative surge. Within a year or two Henry suffered an illness which led to almost total blindness and the end of his painting career. This work is imbued with a sense of freshness and freedom – the brushwork has been swiftly applied with an assurance that shows the artist at the height of his powers. The Road by the Lake bears the influence of Henry’s teacher in Paris, the American artist James McNeill Whistler, who instructed his students to observe the natural world in direct terms and lay down their observations in closely modulated, harmonious tones. 

Mary Swanzy, Cubist Landscape with Red Pagoda and Bridge Painted circa 1925-30, oil on canvas, 76 by 63.5cm. Estimate: £60,000-80,000 / €71,500-95,500 

Cubist Landscape with Red Pagoda and Bridge embodies the confident self-belief and pioneering spirit of an artist whose work defied easy categorisation throughout her career. In conservative 1920s Dublin, such a painting would have been conceived as a radical gesture in the face of a visual culture largely steeped in academic tradition. Swanzy encountered French modernism as a young student in Paris in 1905, where she attended one of Gertrude Stein’s famous soirées in an apartment whose walls were adorned with avant-garde art. Swanzy encountered the work of Picasso and Braque and in 1914 exhibited at the Salon des Independents with Robert Delauney and other Cubists. In this work, Swanzy demonstrates a keen understanding of how geometric construction could bring a fresh visual language to painting. With this bold approach, the artist put herself at the forefront of a new avant-garde in Ireland. 

Property from the Estate of George & Maura McClelland 

The McClelland Collection is a testament to the determination, energy, and compassion of George and Maura. From modest beginnings in 1960s Belfast, George’s commitment to Irish art and artists never faltered. In many instances, his support and development of contemporary Irish artists – notably Colin Middleton, William Conor, Daneil O’Neill, F.E. McWilliam and Tony O’Malley – acted as a life changing event. George’s support of Middleton invigorated the artist after Victor Waddington ceased representing him in the 1960s: he persuaded Middleton to exhibit works that had been left unstretched and ignored since the 1930s and 40s, which were received to renewed acclaim. The six works being offered for sale are superb examples by the artist from the period, encompassing landscapes, Belfast scenes and his significant explorations of surrealism. They represent only a fraction of the extraordinary collection formed by George and Maura. 

Gottfried Helnwein, The Disasters of War 47 2016, oil and acrylic on canvas, 152 by 122cm. Estimate: £30,000-50,000 / €35,800-60,000 

Gottfried Helnwein’s work is informed by his upbringing in post-war Austria where the horrors of the Second World War cast a horrifying shadow. The central image he employs in his message to shake the viewer from complacency is that of the innocent child, bearing the scars of adulthood’s violence and corruptibility – at times this is explicit and confrontational, at others more subtle, as in this example from his The Disasters of War series. Helnwein’s photo-realist technique is highly accomplished and invests his paintings with even more power, urging us to examine them closely. Since moving to Ireland in 1997, and purchasing the gothic Gurteen Castle in Tipperary where he now lives and works, Helnwein has made Ireland his family home. He has exhibited in Ireland – in Kilkenny (2001), Crawford (2004) and Waterford (2008) – and internationally, and his works are held in major public collections. 

Other contemporary highlights include works by Elizabeth Magill, Melita Denaro, Eilís O’Connell,John Doherty and Rita Duffy.



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