Bonhams to hold its first ever Irish sale on Irish soil this month

With 57 offices worldwide, Dublin is now the 15th global selling location for the 230-year-old auction house

Bonhams will conduct its first ever Irish sale in Ireland this month in a timed online auction with bidding from November 17th-28th. The 126 lots will be on view at City Assembly House on Dublin’s South William Street from November 24th-28th. Entitled The Irish Sale, Vision and Voice, “it’s about celebrating those who have shaped the identity of Ireland all over the globe”, according to Kieran O’Boyle, Director of Bonhams in Ireland.

Established 230 years ago and with 57 regional offices across the globe, “Ireland now makes our 15th global selling location – which is more than any other auction house in the world,” says O’Boyle. “We have been rapidly expanding in recent years and this has been part of the plan for the UK and Europe, but the best place to sell Irish art is Ireland.”

Brexit has had a serious impact on the sale of Irish art, whereby new rules mean that someone buying Irish art at a sale in Britain could end up paying an additional 15 percent post-Brexit tax premium. This can make the aggregate in the region of 45 percent after shipping, premiums and duty. Other UK auction houses have addressed this by having their Irish art sales in Europe, while some individuals have taken advantage of the fact that Northern Ireland is excluded from these rules and ship art via Belfast.

So for Irish buyers it is important to note that some lots in the upcoming sale have their origins in the UK. This means that the work will be subject to a further 13.5 percent on top of the hammer price (a 28 percent – plus VAT – premium on top of the sale price). Bonhams has a sliding scale for premiums that begin at 28 percent (plus VAT) for sales up to €40,000 which reduce in relation to value.


But these lots are indicated by an asterisk “and we have reflected this in the estimates”, according to O’Boyle.

It’s a lovely catalogue with a real mix including fine art, pop culture, design and history. It features 30 works in The Irish News Collection, formed over the course of 40 years by the late Jim Fitzpatrick, former owner of The Irish News, which, last year was the best-performing daily newspaper across the UK, according to industry figures. Highlights include a portrait from 1912 by Sir William Orpen of his then six-year-old daughter, Christine – universally known as Kit (€80,000-€120,000). Other artists such as John Behan, Margaret Clarke, Harry Kernoff and William Conor also feature.

There really isn’t a sale of Irish art without a Paul Henry. A quintessential west-of-Ireland landscape is described in catalogue notes as “one of the best examples [of Henry] to come to the market in some time”. Entitled Killary Bay, Connemara – though you’d be hard pushed to find a spot on Killary Harbour that matches the image portrayed – it was called On Killary Bay back in 1997 when it sold through Phillips in London (€120,000-€180,000).

There is a superb Mainie Jellett, Abstract Composition, listed at €20,000-€30,000. The catalogue tells the story of how Jellett, who was one of the most important pioneers of modern art in Ireland, as well as being a writer, lecturer and stage designer; was ridiculed a century ago this year. Her painting Decoration caused furore at the Society of Dublin Painters group show in 1923. The reviewer from The Irish Times said of the work “they’re all squares, cubes, odd shapes and clashing colours”, describing it as “an insoluble puzzle”. Artist and poet George Russell referred to “the sub-human art of Miss Jellett” describing her cubism as “artistic malaria”.

You’d wonder if they would have challenged a male artist so. After all, the academic modernist studied in Paris under Andre Lhote and then with compatriot Evie Hone, under Albert Gleizes, a cubist painter who rejected arbitrary processes in favour of abstract art. Jellett’s experimentation would also have brought her into closer contact with leading European modernist greats such as Kandinsky and Mondrian.

Historical works include the annotated typescripts from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (€40,000-€60,000) along with an 11th-century Irish carved granite font, and a host of pencil and watercolour drawings by Jack B Yeats are from the collection of art dealer Theo Waddington.

Fans of Sonja Landweer, Breon O’Casey and Michael Foley have plenty to choose from, while Grainne Watts is represented by the sublime Electric Blue Vortex (€3,800-€4,200). Two pieces by renowned Irish craftsman, basket weaver Joe Hogan, feature while the sale also has works by Bonhams in-house sculptor Kevin Gaines.

In terms of pop art, fans of U2 have a few choices: an autographed sleeve for the October album signed by all the band (€1,800-€2,200); two letters from Bono and Gavin Friday to a music journalist (€1,500-€2,000) and the handwritten lyrics for Your Song Saved my Life, 2021. Estimated at €12,000-€15,000, the three sheets of personalised stationery were donated to the Music Cares Charity Auction in January 2022.

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle

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