Meet the Irish painter taking the international art world by storm

Genieve Figgis has become a global sensation, and you can see her work at an upcoming Dublin auction

With paintings of elaborately dressed 18th-century protagonists, the work of Irish artist Genieve Figgis is taking the international art world by storm. Lemon Queen, one of her signature “portrait paintings”, is expected to fetch between €25,000 and €35,000 in the sale of 154 works at Whyte’s upcoming Irish and International art sale. The auction will take place in a live online sale to be held at Freemasons’ Hall on Molesworth Street in Dublin on Monday, October 2nd.

Lemon Queen was included in an exhibition entitled Fictitious Possibilities at the Talbot Gallery in 2013, and Figgis’s leap to worldwide fame itself reads, as the catalogue puts it, “like a fictitious possibility”.

After graduating from the National College of Art and Design in 2013, Figgis began using social media to post her work, which has been described by some as ghoulish or macabre. In doing so, the Wicklow-based artist attracted the eye of American painter and photographer Richard Prince, who purchased some of her works, opening the door to the sometimes impenetrable New York art world.

Before that, Figgis worked at her kitchen table, and without a gallery or agent, earning the minimum wage by working in a local shop. “A decade later the artist’s turnover on the secondary market alone stands at over €2.6 million, with her primary market place at auction in Hong Kong,” according to the catalogue notes.


Now she is represented by the Helwaser Gallery in New York, has countless exhibitions and articles under her belt was,commissioned by French house Dior to reimagine the Lady Dior handbag, further catapulting her name internationally.

The painting in Whyte’s sale employs aesthetics of European rococo style, and bears her signature, heavily slathered acrylics, which appear to melt the protagonist’s face.

Another fascinating work is lot 63, which is a portrait of Christine Keeler by Limerick artist John Shinnors.

Entitled Picture of Christine Keeler, it was executed in 1980, before his major breakthrough in winning the GPA award in 1984. It is estimated at €15,000-€20,000.

The work has a most interesting provenance, as outlined by art reviewer John P O’Sullivan in the catalogue notes.

When Shinnors was a young artist, he was commissioned by a Limerick friend to paint Keeler, whom the friend had got to know through the London jazz scene. He gave Shinnors a photograph of the English model, who was involved in a major scandal known as the Profumo Affair, due to her relationship with 46-year-old John Profumo when she was 19 years old. It ended in the resignation of Profumo, who was war minister at the time.

Incidentally, Keeler used to visit the town of Longford on a regular basis until she died in 2017, according to her son Seymour Platt, who still resides in the county.

One of the top lots in the sale is The Curragh, Kilronan (lot 30, €60,000-€80,000), by Belfast-born artist Gerard Dillon. In the 1940s, Dillon visited Connemara and the Aran Islands with fellow artist and writer George Campbell. In a letter to Madge Connolly (Dillon’s London based friend) he notes “My god, it was the most glorious holiday I’ve ever had”, describing his sojourn on the island, “a change away from the world completely and absolute peace”.

More west of Ireland imagery from the Aran Islands is Sean Keating’s Still Waters (lot 19, €60,000-€80,000), which is one of a series of images representing the island people. Keating was introduced to the islands by his friend Harry Clarke, “and found himself as an artist there so much, that he became synonymous with the location during his lifetime”, according to the catalogue notes.

Also featured are some wonderful sculptures, especially some sublime works by Rowan Gillespie (Captive Man, a bronze on marble, €15,000-€20,000) and John Behan’s The Pole Vaulter (lot 83, €2,500-€3,500).

Graham Knuttel self-portrait

Nine works by the late artist Graham Knuttel feature in Whyte’s sale, ranging in estimates from €1,200-€6,000, while a rare self-portrait of the artist, who died in May, will feature in Gormley’s Autumn Online Auction, which will take place this Tuesday, September 26th.

Listed at £2,200-£2,800 (€2,548-€3,243), it joins eight further Knuttel pieces in the sale of more than 200 works.

“For Knuttel, to paint what one saw or felt or imagined around one’s self should be a simple affair, painted from the gut,” explains Gerard Gormley, adding, “He liked to paint the human predicament as he saw it, and his figures appear in an urban landscape of which he was a part.”

A single-owner collection of Irish artist Markey Robinson has 11 pieces in the sale, including Village by the Sea £1,200-£1,800 (€1,390-€2,084). The auction also features work by Eileen Meagher, Kenneth Webb, Ken Hamilton among others.,