Auctions of 2023: Demand remains strong for Irish artists

Seán Scully was the top lot in art, a new world record was set for a work on paper by Harry Clarke and a collector paid €7,500 for Oscar Wilde’s hair

With total sales of just under €6 million, and an average sale through rate of 85 per cent, 2023 was a strong year for Whyte’s of Molesworth Street.

“It has been another good year,” says Ian Whyte of the Dublin auction house, but he notes that consignments were lower than in 2022. He blames this on Brexit, whereby “fewer paintings are being sent to Dublin due to the 13.5 per cent import duty”, and the combined aggregate of fees and duty.

Whyte’s achieved the top price in Ireland in 2023 for Jack B Yeats’s Glory to the Brave Singer, which made €290,000; John Lavery’s Switzerland, Hazel and Alice sold for €230,000; and Paul Henry’s Dooega, Achill Island, achieved €155,000. Whyte notes that there was some price resistance to Paul Henry last year, with most selling at the lower estimate. However, paintings by James Humbert Craig and Frank McKelvey, whose works in the 1950s and 1960s would have commanded more than Henry’s, but tanked in the recession, are beginning to rise again.

Disney magic

One of the top lots at Victor Mee was a pair of GAA football boots owned by the late GAA midfielder Éamonn Mongey, who wore them the last time the Sam Maguire went to Mayo in 1951. Achieving €5,600, the boots are now displayed at Elverys sport shop headquarters in Castlebar. A Paddy Cork Distillers advertising mirror sold for €11,700, while the French hand-painted gesso panelled room used in Disney’s blockbuster Disenchanted, and which originally came from a chateau near Versailles, sold for €15,000.


Citing a successful 2023, David Sheppard of Sheppard’s in Co Laois, says the company had a number of sleepers over the past year. A 17th century Tibetan-Chinese meteorite iron phurba (stake) made €140,000. The hammer fell at a whopping €39,000 for a black marker graffiti over an old religious sketch. Estimated at €200-€300, and “attributed to Jean Michel Basquiat”, it had been offered for sale by the auction house in 2021 for €8,000-€12,000, with “bears the name Jean Michel Basquiat”. The house also lists a Chinese archaic bronze bell as having sold for €28,000, while €260,000 was achieved for a 15.93ct loose yellow diamond.

Top sales at Purcell Auctioneers included €17,500 for a complete wooden aileron rib from Alcock and Brown’s transatlantic plane; a bronze bull by John Behan at €5,200; an Omega 1971 Speedmaster at €4,500; and a 1940 Munster Championship Senior and Minor Hurling final programme for Cork v Limerick, which achieved €3,100.

Also on the sporting front, a whopping €32,000 was achieved for a first All-Ireland football medal from 1887 in May at Fonsie Mealy in Co Kilkenny, while a first English signed limited edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses sold for €18,500; a lock of Oscar Wilde’s hair achieved €7,500; and an original admission ticket to Croke Park on Bloody Sunday achieved €8,000.

Cork sales

Topping the bill for a work of art in Irish auctions was Sean Scully’s Raval Rojo, which realised €580,000 at a sale held by Morgan O’Driscoll of Skibbereen.

Also at the auction house, William Scott’s Still Life with Beans sold for €160,000, while Harry Clarke’s Titania and Bottom also achieved €160,000. Irish women artists also fared well, with Nano Reid’s Sailing on the Boyne achieving €48,000 and Evie Hone’s Madonna and Child selling for €32,000.

Meanwhile, describing 2023 as a busy year, auctioneer Denis Lyons of Lynes and Lynes in Carrigtwohill, notes that Cuskinny House was a particularly successful sale, where Terry Carden & Jane Williams’ Cork silver fish server achieved €1,200; a Georgian mahogany and satinwood sideboard sold for €7,000; and a 1952 silk wedding dress for €260. Medals from Zulu war and 1898 Jubilee medal and Khedives Star made €8,100, while a Louis Vuitton suitcase sold for €750; a large Irish oak pulpit for €1,200; and an old chemist shop cabinet for €2,900.

Record price for Irish artist

Having conducted 31 sales over numerous categories in 2023, Adam’s of St Stephen’s Green said its sell-through rates were in the order of 80 per cent. James O’Halloran notes that online bidders now represent 45 per cent of buyers, showing how a trend that began during the pandemic has changed the industry forever.

The Blessington Commode, from the Townley Hall sale, was purchased by the National Museum of Ireland for a figure between its €100,000-€150,000 estimate, while a provincial George III table sold for €55,000 and an Irish rococo mirror achieved €24,000. The auction grossed more than €1.8 million, showing there is still a demand for Irish period furniture.

The company had more than €3.5 million in arts sales, with highlights such as William Orpen’s Yvonne Aupicq as a Nun achieving €125,000, and Harry Clarke’s The Colloquy of Monos and Una selling for €70,000. This set a new world record for a work on paper by the artist, and the work is now off to the Crawford Gallery in Cork.

In terms of jewellery, interesting provenance and European ateliers are in the greatest demand, with more than €3 million in sales achieved last year. Top lots included an art deco diamond bracelet by Erwin Lang, which was later redesigned by Bulgari as a tiara (€95,000). A single stone 4.2ct diamond ring sold for €50,000, while the top price for a wristwatch was €30,000 for a Patek Phillipe Nautilus.

In Asian art, a pair of Chinese famille verte parrots sold for €32,000, while its mid-century furniture sales generated €500,000 – an indication of the interest of younger buyers. Finally, its two vintage wine and spirit sales generated a quarter of a million euro in sales, with Château Pétrus 2008 leading the charge, at €2,000 a bottle.

Irish art

With sales of about €3 million (including premiums) in Irish art, Sotheby’s had more than 1,000 visitors to its three-day exhibition at the RHA in November, reporting a strong year in terms of private sales. Top lots were Jack B Yeats’s Come on the Dawn (€241,400) and The Donkey Show (£381,000); John Lavery: A Moorish Hareem £381,000 (€439,332); and Ariadne £381,000 (€439,332). Harry Kernoff’s July Morn, Place du Tertre, Paris sold for €50,800.

Musical sale

Since being established in 2020, South Dublin Auctions on the Long Mile Road now sells about 1,000 lots weekly. Highlights of 2023 include a rare set of uilleann pipes by Coyne or Kenna for €10,000; a rare Mercedes SL250 (1967) for €40,000; and a barrel-top wagon €1,800.

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