Auction house takes wing with sale of rare Georges Braque tiles

In just two years, South Dublin Auction has grown to a staff of six and changed to online-only sales

Opening a business during a pandemic can be risky endeavour, but for South Dublin Auction, which flung its doors open in July 2020, the experience has been positive, and the company has gone from strength to strength.

Having sourced a 12,000sq ft premises on the Long Mile Road, and with a current staff of six, the house initially held one live sale a week, conducted on a Thursday – an auction which often ran from midday to midnight requiring a human to be a constant on the rostrum.

Changing tack to a five-day timed online sale ending on a Sunday is what auctioneer Alan Conway describes as his “lightbulb moment”. The new five-day online sale suits the company’s customer base, which has grown from 204 registered bidders in July 2020 to more than 700 weekly bidders who vie for the 900 or so weekly lots. The house has had some interesting results, most notably the €9,000 paid for Markey Robinson’s Navy Mountain this year.

Two items of interest in South Dublin Auction’s current sale, which ends on Sunday, are original enamelled ceramic tiles by renowned French cubist artist Georges Braque.

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Entitled Au Couchant Oiseau, the tiles, dating from the 1950s, are large, abstract compositions of a bird silhouette against a red and yellow sunset with a brown and black border. Measuring 24 by 18 inches apiece, they were part of the Hugo Henkel Schwimmbad in Düsseldorf, Germany.

“The ceramics were commissioned by the Henkel group from Braque for the purpose of display in the public swimming pool built by Dr Hugo Henkel,” according to catalogue notes. The pool, originally built in 1930, “was intended to be an expression of Henkel’s system of a patriarchal and caring relationship between employer and employee”, according to Rheinische Industriekultur, a body dedicated to industrial heritage in Germany.

Though Braque is perhaps best known for launching the avant-garde art movement of cubism alongside Pablo Picasso, he began his working career as a house painter and decorator, like his father and grandfather before him, before attending art college.

His focus on birds intensified in his later work, which is represented on a grand scale on the ceiling of the Salle Henri II at the Louvre in Paris. Birds are also represented in the 1958 aquatint L’Oiseau de Feu, which is part of the permanent collection at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma) at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham.

Braque also designed pool tiles, Les Poissons, which are now held at the collection of the Fondation Maeght in France.

Estimated at €20,000-€30,000 per tile, they were purchased by the current owner from Kunst und Antiquitäten, Gerhard Koktanek and Ans Meijer, the antique dealers and architectural salvage store in Kierspe, Germany, who had originally purchased the tiles from Gabriele Henkel, of the estate.

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about property, fine arts, antiques and collectables