Tuesday 10 December 2019

Treasures: Journey into the unknown

Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables colum

Artwork from Letita Marion will be on show.
Artwork from Letita Marion will be on show.
Artist Lorcan Walsh.
Work by Mark O'Neill will also feature.

Eleanor Flegg

THE world of fine art can be an intimidating place for newcomers. Well-intentioned art dealers will tell you to "buy what you like".

The trouble is that a newbie art buyer may not have a clue what they like. Taste is something that develops with experience and time. And it's all very well to buy what you like, but how do you know if the painting that you like is any good?

"Never buy anything that you don't like," says the auctioneer John de Vere White, "but don't buy everything that you do like."

If you lack confidence in your own judgement, be prepared to take advice. He remembers, as a young man, overhearing his father counselling a potential buyer against the purchase of an artwork by a popular Irish artist. "You may like it now," his father advised the client, "but, if you hang it up and live with it, you will get marginally less pleasure from that picture every time that you set eyes on it."

That's the voice of experience. I wish that I knew which artist De Vere White's father was talking about, but he's not going to let that one slip.

The staff at De Vere's are preparing for this Sunday's auction of Irish art, affectionately known as the "Valentine's Day massacre". Like many February sales, it represents a clearing of the decks.

"Some of these pictures have been here for years," he says, blowing the dust off a perfectly presentable oil painting, "the owners just want to see the back of them and the reserves are low."

During the Celtic Tiger, many Irish millionaires topped up on Irish art works, now the prices have fallen. It means that on one level, this is an ideal opportunity for first-timers to dip a toe into the art world and come home with an original painting for less than you might pay for a rip-off bunch of roses.

On another, the low reserves might lead you to question the quality of the work.

De Vere White isn't claiming that great art is lurking unnoticed in his auction rooms, but he does point out that there is often a gap between the price that a painting will fetch at auction and its aesthetic merit.

"The sad thing is that we can put pictures of real quality on our walls, but unless the artist has a track record, people won't give anything for it."

Because they are not known to the art world, artists without that track record are known as 'unknown' even if their paintings are signed. Their work can represent a bargain. It's unlikely to appreciate in value, but it won't lose value either, unlike the mass-produced print that you might purchase for a similar price.

'Unknown' artists in the Valentine's Day Sale include Michael O'Neill (€200 to €300) Lorcan Walsh (€100 to €200) and Victor Richardson (€150 to €250). Their work comes into the category that De Vere White describes as "attractive furnishing paintings". While this is not a sale for serious collectors, it is "a good starting point for someone who never thought they could buy a piece of original art for less than you might pay for an unframed print."

The prices are low because serious collectors have very little interest in work by unknown artists, no matter how well it looks.

If you like the idea of buying something by a named artist, but don't have a lot to spend, studio sales can offer good value. These sales happen when an artist dies and their family clear the backlog of paintings from their studio.

The Valentine's Day sale includes 20 works from the studio of Desmond Carrick, which are mostly estimated to sell between €400 and €600. These paintings may not be what the art world describes as important but they are personable works by an artist with a track record.

Studio sales apart, expect to add a zero to the estimate of a painting by a recognised artist, as compared to an unknown. This sale includes work by the well-known Letita Marion Hamilton (€3,000 to €5,000), Mark O'Neill (€2,000 to €3,000) and Colin Middleton (€6,000 to €9,000). For those who like to dream that the painting by an unknown artist on their living room wall represents hidden treasure, De Vere White forecasts disappointment.

"Hidden treasures are few and far between. In 40 years as an auctioneer I've only unearthed a handful. There are only a handful of Irish artists whose work commands high prices, most of their work is signed and the people who own them tend to know what they have."

And, even if your painting did turn out to be by one of the art world's 'big names', you might be slow to sell it. The art market is slowly responding to Ireland's much vaunted 'economic recovery', but prices are still much lower than they were 10 years ago. A painting by Roderick O'Connor, for example, might now carry an estimate of between €60,000 and €90,000. Ten years ago, the same painting would probably have sold for €150,000 to €200,000.

There's also an urban myth that paintings and antiques are exempt from Capital Gains Tax. It's not true. The first €1,270 of an individual's annual gains is exempt, but the rest is chargeable at 33pc. Investment is all about timing and, at the moment, it's a buyer's market. The Sunday Sale at De Vere's takes place on Sunday at 2pm in Buswells Hotel, with viewing at 35 Kildare Street today and tomorrow.

If you're in the market for an 'important' painting, or contemplating a five-figure investment, several of the major auction houses have upcoming sales geared towards the serious collector.

These include De Vere's Irish Art Auction on March 7 and Adam's auction of Important Irish Art on March 23. Whyte's auction of Irish and International Art, which takes place on February 29, includes both some of the big names in Irish Art, like Jack B Yeats and Paul Henry, and international figures like Joan Miro whose work is more rarely seen in this country.

For further information see: deveres.ie, adams.ie, and whytes.ie.

In the salesrooms



The Dublin Toy and Train Sale will take place this Sunday at the Talbot Hotel, Stillorgan Road, Dublin, from 10.30am.

Expect a wide range of toy trains, carriages and railway accessories including vintage brands like Hornby and Tri-ang.

There will also be tin-plate toys, Britain's lead soldiers, collectable annuals and vintage comics as well as Star Wars and Star Trek memorabilia.

The Northern Irish dealers Joe McCloskey and Peter Edwards will be in attendance, as will Jim Magill who will bring an array of vintage cinema posters, front-of-house stills, vintage cinema campaign books and original film advertisements.

These include a movie poster for the Alfred Hitchcock film Marnie (1964) starring Sean Connery (above) and an original lithograph poster for A Man About The House (1947), which featured the Skibbereen actor Kieron Moore, who went on to star opposite Vivienne Leigh as Count Vronsky in the 1948 adaptation of Anna Karenina.

Magill will also offer free valuation of movie ephemera, with further details on 0044 7963409489.


The next auction at John Weldon Auctioneers takes place on Tuesday, February 16 at 2pm with lots ranging from €20 to €30,000 in value.

The sale includes a diamond line necklace set in platinum (€12,000 to €15,000), a diamond single-stone ring set with diamond shoulder (€20,000 to €30,000) and a sapphire, diamond and pearl drop necklace (€2,000 to €3,000).

Silver collectors will note a rare Irish silver three-piece tea set (€500 to €1,000) made in Dublin in 1966 and carrying the extra hallmark of An Claidheamh Soluis (The Sword of Light).

The mark commemorates the golden jubilee of the 1916 Rising. "I understand that the Assay Office, which is based in Dublin Castle, has another special hallmark for this silver and gold hallmarked this year," says Weldon, who predicts that silver carrying the new special hallmark will become collectible.

Full details are on jwa.ie


Results from the recent sale at RJ Keighery Antiques City Auction Rooms in Waterford, which took place on Monday, February 1, include an African wool and camel hair marriage tent liner, which sold slightly below the lower estimate for €140.

The Regency fold-over mahogany tea table, however, exceeded its upper estimate and sold for €620. Similarly, a French art nouveau marble mantle clock with girl and Gazelle, made by Le Goc and estimated between €180 and €250, sold for €350.

Persian Tabriz rug sold for €750; a Victorian brass mounted sunk-centre boulle cabinet with a mirrored back for €2,400; a Victorian brass mounted bow ended credenza for €1,700; a pair of marble top lockers with brass mouldings for €680; and a Vertex Swiss white gold and diamond cocktail watch for €500.

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