Forget flashy cars... Irish art is the subtle new symbol of success
Irish art is making a comeback with €2m worth of sales made in 72 hours at three auction houses last week.
Art auctioneers Whyte's, de Veres and Adams held their winter auctions last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. All report fresh confidence in the market with paintings sold for thousands more than anticipated.
James O'Halloran, managing director of Adams, which took in €750,000 on Wednesday night, described the success of the sale as "quite remarkable". He says a new generation is turning away from flashy materialism and opting to invest in art instead.
"There is an interesting cachet in art. If people are entertaining friends, there is a social bonus in having good pictures on the wall," he said. "And art will attract a far broader fan base than antiques. People will notice a Paul Henry on the wall, for example, but they wouldn't notice that a dining table is a George III."
Mandy Williams, director of Dublin's Oriel Gallery, which held three sell-out art exhibitions this year, says the trend is also a reflection of people shunning big parties for more low-key entertaining.
"A lot of people went back to entertaining at home during the recession and felt it was nice to have some good art work on the walls. Some also got badly burned in bank shares, so they like seeing something tangible for their investment."
Williams explains there is now more of a social currency in channelling money into art rather than fleeting symbols of wealth.
"Having a flash car isn't really the done thing anymore. People would now rather opt for a nice painting on the wall, it is far more subtle. It says something about who they are and what they like."
Describing the mood in the auction houses last week, she said: "I couldn't believe the reaction. People were snapping up little pieces here and there. But they were making very careful choices, viewing the items over and over and then making strong bids."
Ian Whyte, of Whyte's auction house, which sold €800,000 worth of art on Monday night, says the madness of the Celtic Tiger has been replaced by "sensible collecting" of works.
"People went a little mad in the Celtic Tiger days and overpaid and some weren't very sensible. But now, there is sensible collecting. Investors are buying pieces that have proven their worth. There's far less speculating, much shrewder investing.
"The people who are selling are sometimes downsizing their houses and selling off big collections, and then you have others whose tastes have simply changed.
"What you liked at 20 might be different from what you like at 35 or 40."
He says that, as the housing market picks up in Ireland and more houses are built, more art will sell as people look for good-quality paintings to decorate their homes.
"Particularly in the last year, we have noticed it. The recovery, for us, started in 2013 in that the value stopped falling, and it has increased by 10-15pc each year, certainly outpacing inflation. The art market is back by 30pc now but certainly has a long way to go.
"I would be happy if the market grows steadily by 10-15pc over the next 10 years. It's far better to have a steady growth than the craziness we saw in the height of the boom."
At the Whyte's sale in the RDS last Monday, the highest price was €78,000 for Being, an oil-on-canvass painted in 2000 by Louis le Brocquy. Connemara by Paul Henry made €66,000, while Harvest Light by Tony O'Malley sold for €34,000.