London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

The Irish Sale at Sotheby's

08/04/2008, By

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Strong prices were seen across the board for the work of Irish artists at Sotheby’s last year and following this, the company is delighted to announce that on Wednesday, May 7, 2008 it will once again present a discerning array of works by the biggest names in the field of 19th and 20th century Irish Art. Among the 118 lots to go under the hammer will be noteworthy examples by internationally acclaimed names like Sir John Lavery (1856-1941), Sir William Orpen (1878-1931), Walter Frederick Osborne (1859-1903), Roderic O’Conor (1860-1940) and Jack Butler Yeats (1871-1957) - artists who need no introduction in the field of Irish Art and who are vigorously competed for on the international platform - as well as the Belfast artists Daniel O’Neill (1920-1974) and Gerard Dillon (1916-1971) and artists of the present day like the Dublin-born Louis le Brocquy (b. 1916). The sale – which will be on exhibition before the sale at Lismore Castle Arts in Co. Waterford and then in Dublin and Belfast – is expected to fetch in excess of £5 million/€6.5 million.

The sale will have at its heart one of the finest groups of works by the ever-popular and much-celebrated Sir John Lavery to come to auction in recent years. The eight works on offer by him span the entire progression of his career; from his time at the artists’ colony at Grez-sur-Loing in 1883 – where he was influenced by the plein-air naturalist approach of the French painter Jules Bastien-Lepage – to 1932, the last decade of the artist’s life. The star of the offerings by him is an evocative seascape entitled A Windy Day (Image 1). The work has not been seen in public since it was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1910 when Lavery was honourary artist at the British Pavilion. A Windy Day depicts a young woman battling with the wind as she walks along the beach accompanied by her small dog and the model for the work is believed to be one of his favourite models, a beautiful young German girl by the name of Mary Auras.

Mary Auras was also the sitter for Miss Auras, The Red Book (Image 2). Lavery first met the 16 year old girl in 1901 at Unter den Linden in Berlin, where he had a number of important clients at the time and where he was also planning an exhibition the following year. Mary went on to be the inspiration for copious sketches and head studies as well as a number of half-length profile portraits, of which Miss Auras is the most important. First exhibited in Dublin in 1907, the canvas shows Mary - the perfect model - engrossed in a book and revealing a confident and striking profile. A third work in the sale - The Moorish Flag Hoisted on the German Legation, Tangier - also has connections to Mary Auras as it was executed in Tangier in January 1920 where Lavery had arrived for Mary’s wedding to Captain Nigel d’Albini Black-
Hawkins.

Two further portraits by Lavery will also be offered and these include: Portrait of a Lady, Thought to be Mrs Ralph Peto, a small sketch of a much larger canvas of Mrs Ralph Peto, a well-known beauty and socialite; and Portrait of Gaines Ruger Donoho, an artist friend of Lavery. The sale will also include topographical views by the artist which capture the Maidenhead Regatta, Concarneau in France and The Palladian Bridge at Wilton. It was at this latter location that Lavery enticed his great friend and student Sir Winston Churchill into a competition to paint the bridge.

In addition to the strength of the works by Lavery, an exceptional group of pictures by Roderic O’Conor will also be offered and the most valuable of these is a ‘striped’ landscape entitled Paysage, Pont Aven (Image 3), which dates from 1892. O’Conor painted some of the most innovative and original works of his 50 year career between 1892 and 1894, while living in the picturesque Breton market town of Pont-Aven in France. O’Conor was not the first Irish artist to travel to France but unlike many of his predecessors he formed a lasting bond with France and the artists he met there and he was arguably the most integrated Irish artist in the French avant-garde movement.

His paintings show direct influences of the French Post-Impressionist movement and he and Gauguin were particularly good friends. The daringly ‘striped’ pictures that O’Conor produced during his time in France were exhibited in Dublin in 1956 in the first ever solo show dedicated to him. With their Van Gogh style, the canvases made an immediate impact with major galleries such as the Tate in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, who quickly secured works for their collections. Paysage, Pont-Aven, however, disappeared quietly into a French private collection and did not find its way to London for another 45 years. Its recent re-emergence confirms its status as one of the artist’s key Breton landscapes.

Apples and Pears (image 4) is one of just six ‘striped’ still lifes that are extant from O’Conor’s time in France and interestingly, no still lifes survive from before the artist’s arrival there in 1891. The six remaining still lifes depict unsophisticated daily objects that were readily to hand in the Brittany town and these ranged from hand-painted pottery jugs and bowls to fruit, flowers, cider bottles and even a glass fishing float. O’Conor clearly saw his still lifes as celebrations of regional distinctiveness, of Brittany’s earthy peasant values and of the fruitfulness of the harvest.

Two important pictures by Walter Frederick Osborne are sure to be highly sought after. The first depicts two sisters, Dorothy and Irene Falkiner (Image 5). Although better known for his genre paintings, landscapes and late impressionistic garden scenes, Walter Osborne was a superb portraitist, and practised as a portrait painter throughout his life. The Falkiner sisters came from an extremely distinguished Irish family and the portrait was commissioned by their parents in 1899. The second picture is entitled A Tale of the Sea and this shows a group of boys in a harbour-side setting. The picture is believed to be set at Walberswick and the work gives a valuable picture of this Suffolk village in the 1880s, showing boys in their simple clothing and cheerful sun hats on the old timber pier.

The eminent Sir William Orpen will be represented in the sale by three works and these are spearheaded by a Self Portrait from 1912. Orpen executed self portraits throughout his career and it was suggested by P.G. Konody, one of his early biographers, that he regarded them as a sort of ‘busman’s holiday’ from the day-to-day business of painting other people’s portraits. His self portraits fall broadly into two types; ‘studio’ self-portraits which show Orpen in particular situations and ‘Irish’ self-portraits which often characterise him as a playboy of the western world, the Irish hero and the mythic figure who retains an ancient culture. Despite the fact that he produced so many self portraits, Orpen actually disliked his own features and regarded himself as ugly. Two further works by Orpen are an oil entitled The Shower and Summer.

With its cool black, grey and indigo palette, The Shower (Image 6) reveals the influences of the Spanish Court painter Francisco de Goya on the artist’s work; this inspiration can in fact be seen in a number of dashing half-length female portraits that he produced around 1908. Orpen used his wife Grace as his model for The Shower and the work is now part of a remarkable group of portraits of Grace that were all executed between 1907 and 1909. The artist is also known for his interior scenes that capture his preoccupation with the fall of light through his large studio windows and Summer is a superb example of these works.

Following his death in 1957, Jack Butler Yeats was described in the Royal Hibernian Academy’s annual report as “the true painter poet” and this is a view which can be seen in his We Are Leaving You Now (Image 7), which is the most valuable of the works by the artist in the sale. Painted in 1928, We Are Leaving You Now is an important example of the bold, fluid and expressive painting style that Yeats had developed over the preceding decade. In contrast to the more controlled nature of his oils from the early 1920s – which were characterised by their careful black outlines – the thick, flowing impasto in this painting highlights, all the more vividly, the young girl at the centre of the composition. She is captured bidding farewell to the final traveller in the train carriage and her impending departure imbues a sense of mystery that is typical of the poetical nature of all of Yeats oils from this period. Yeats’ development of a freer, looser and more vibrant painting style undoubtedly enabled him to express his thoughts more poetically.

Waiting for the Long Car and Meeting the Dawn are further iconic pieces by Yeats. Executed in 1947, Waiting for the Long Car portrays a typically vivid impression of the way of life in the west of Ireland, a subject which was a key source of inspiration for Yeats throughout his career. For Yeats the long car symbolised contact with the outside world and in keeping with the destiny theme seen in We Are Leaving You Now, the car was a visual metaphor of each man’s passage through life and the path to the future. Meeting the Dawn dates from a year later and it represents the climax of arguably the most fruitful decade for the artist in terms of his work in oil.

Moving on to a more recent generation of Irish artists, the sale will include an exceptional collection of works by the Belfast-born Daniel O’Neill. The group was formed by Stanley Smith, whose brother Sidney Smith had studied with O’Neill. The three men became close friends when O’Neill moved to London in 1958 and it is a testament to the friendship between the three men that the Smith family acquired so many seminal examples of O’Neills work including Reclining Nude. O’Neill’s portrait Litzi captures someone who was known to him and the work therefore represents one of the rare occasions in which he agreed to undertake a commission. The work was commissioned by the sitter’s husband Stanley Smith.

Strong The lyrical landscapes of the west of Ireland were Gerard Dillon’s favourite painting location in the 1940s and early 1950s but in addition to the scenery he was also intrigued by the local people of Connemara. These themes were the inspiration behind hisTinkers on a Beach and The Table in the Blue Room (Image 8).

Ireland’s most esteemed and celebrated living artist, Louis le Brocquy, will be represented in the sale by a number of works spanning his whole career. Le Brocquy is an artist who has made a unique and rich contribution to the advancement of Irish art over his 70 year career and he has received many accolades and a great deal of attention on the worldwide stage. Headlining the works by him will be two head studies depicting James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. James Joyce was undoubtedly one of le Brocquy’s most enigmatic and compelling subjects and le Brocquy was quoted in the catalogue for his exhibition at the National Gallery of Ireland as saying: “…..Ever since I rediscovered for myself the image of the head, I have painted studies of James Joyce. I have never known Joyce but I am bound to him as a Dubliner…” Le Brocquy met Beckett in Paris in 1978 but he actually first used him as the subject of one of his works in 1965 when he painted Reconstructed Head of Samuel Beckett (Opus no. 171).

The two became good friends during the last eleven years of Beckett’s life and the series of images of him by his friend le Brocquy - where he stares unflinchingly out of the composition - have gained iconic status. Image of Samuel Beckett (474) dates from 1982 and it was acquired directly from the artist by the present owner. Finally, the sale will boast an array of interesting topographical views of Ireland and these are sure to be highly sought after. During the 1830s Andrew Nichol (1804-1886) concentrated on illustrating the wild scenery of Ireland, especially the Antrim coast, and the works for which he is best known are the highly original views of Irish coastal towns viewed through banks of wild flowers.

Numerous views of Ireland by John Laporte (1761-1839) will also be presented. Dublin-born Laporte was a prolific landscape painter who was held in high esteem. He was invited by Dr. Thomas Munro to teach as a drawing master at his evening school and it is highly likely that here he would have met – and possibly even have taught – the young Munro School pupils, Joseph Mallord William Turner and Thomas Girtin. The majority of Laporte’s works captured Lake Killarney and the environs of County Kerry and these are locations that are seen in the seven views presented for sale (Image 9).

Wednesday 7th May
Sotheby's
34-35 New Bond Street
London W1A 2AA
+44 (0)20 7293 5000

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