Treasures: Out in the garden getting bronzed up
Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column
The guests at the Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort must be humming along to the tune of The Teddy Bear's Picnic. There's an extremely large bear in the woods nearby.
The four-metre-high bronze sculpture, a purposeful teddy bear striding through the landscape, is the work of Patrick O'Reilly (b.1952). It's entitled In Search of Lost Time. The bear is appealing, but not cutesy. It looks as though it has an agenda. You wouldn't want to get in its way.
The Co Limerick hotel reopened last November after extensive renovations. It's owners, the McManus family, haven't revealed how much they spent, but one thing's for certain. They didn't anticipate buying a bear.
"That was my idea," says John de Vere, an auctioneer who also sources art for private clients.
There's a wonderful story behind the sculpture. Around 10 years ago, with Ireland in the depths of recession, the Dublin Art Foundry was struggling. "They needed work badly and Patrick O'Reilly wanted to support them," de Vere explains. "He commissioned the bear to keep them going."
For most artists, it would be sheer lunacy to make a piece of bronze sculpture on this scale without a prospective buyer, but the giant bear was never a money-making enterprise. Now that it's sold, O'Reilly will recoup some of his costs but, although he won't reveal the price, de Vere describes it as having sold "more cheaply than it would cost to cast it".
O'Reilly makes bears in the way that Irish sculptor Barry Flanagan (1941-2009) made hares. He doesn't confine himself to the form, but bears have been recurrent.
He manages to say a lot with them. With regard to his recent exhibition at the Gallery Vallois, New York, O'Reilly wrote that: "From childhood days our first memory is that of a bear. He personifies innocence, companionship and trust. He is a pure spirit and symbolises unworldliness. As adults many of us remember this childhood time with a reverence, as sadly this era must end. Life must take its course and is never stationary.
"The Bear marches on with a look of resigned acceptance. He keeps going despite life's turbulence and uncertainty. He is silent and does not complain."
There's another of Patrick O'Reilly's bronze bears in de Vere's Irish Art Auction, which takes place on June 12.
Marching On (140 cm high) is estimated to sell for between €25,000 and €30,000. Like the piece in Adare Manor, this is a pretty focused-looking bear and it looks like it's moving fast. Because of its scale this piece, as well as the other large sculptures in the sale, is currently housed in a private garden in Foxrock, Dublin 18. You can view it in situ, by appointment. If you like O'Reilly's work, but don't have the right kind of money or the right kind of space, he also makes smaller sculptures. In this sale, his Bag of Bronze (58.5 cm high) carries an estimate of between €1,500 and €2,000.
There are more than 20 sculptures in the sale, most of them substantial pieces by Irish artists.
They include two life-size bronze figures (est. €20,000 to €30,000 each) by Rowan Gillespie (b.1953. One is called Click (she's clicking her fingers as if to an invisible tune); the other is In Awe.
There's also a slender piece by Gillespie, Life (est. €10,000 to €15,000), in which a small figure balances precariously on a bronze branch, several times its height. The entire sculpture is 150 cm high and one of an edition of nine.
"Most sculptors who work in bronze make numbered editions of their work and nine is the standard number," says Suzanne MacDougald, art advisor and former owner of the Solomon Gallery.
"After the final casting, the mould is destroyed." While unique pieces do exist, the casting process is too involved and too expensive for this to be common practise. The vast majority of artists working in bronze are reliant on a foundry and the skilled artisans who transform their work from wax model, to plaster mould, to patinated bronze.
"The foundries are the unsung heroes of sculpture," MacDougald concludes. "It's a dangerous, highly skilled process. Gillespie is the only sculptor I know who casts all his own work."
You can see then, why O'Reilly was keen to lend a hand when the Dublin Art Foundry was in trouble.
When Suzanne MacDougald opened the Solomon Gallery in 1981, it became one of the earliest Irish galleries to promote sculpture.
"Fine art was painting, in those days," she explains. "The Irish public didn't really appreciate sculpture. They didn't know where to put it."
At the time, most people thought that sculpture was a cast bronze portrait head, or something you'd find in a church. They didn't have the confidence to buy it, and they didn't know what to do with it when they got it home. MacDougald pioneered the practice - now widely used - of displaying sculpture outdoors.
"In recent years we've seen a lot of garden designers incorporating sculpture, nowhere more than at Chelsea. It's very current of de Vere's to show their sculptures in a garden."
De Vere's Irish Art Auction takes place at the Royal College of Physicians, No. 6 Kildare Street, Dublin 2, on June 12 at 6pm. Viewing is at de Vere's, 35 Kildare Street, from June 9 and in a garden in Dublin 18 (by arrangement).
See deveres.ie and solomonfineart.ie.
In the Salerooms
A series of lots relating to the Troubles sold for thousands, rather than the expected hundreds, at Whyte's Eclectic Collector Auction on May 5. Surprises included a Royal Ulster Constabulary riot helmet and gas mask, reputedly used in the battle of the Bogside (est €200 to €300). It sold for €3,200. A British Mk IV steel helmet, fitted with a Perspex visor for riot and crowd control in Northern Ireland, recovered from Raglan Street following the Falls Curfew riots in 1970 (est €100 to €150) fetched €2,100. A Parachute Regiment red beret recovered from Leeson Street, Lower Falls, in the aftermath of a riot (est. €120 t0 €180) sold for €640, while two 1972 posters supporting a 'No' vote in the referendum on Ireland's entry into the EEC sold for €700 and €900 respectively. The posters depicted signatures from Long Kesh internees. A riot gun with case of twelve inert baton rounds (est. €500 to €700) fetched €1,500; while a British Army L1A1 7.62mm self-loading rifle, of a type used in Northern Ireland, (est. €600 to €800) sold for €1,600. See whytes.ie.
In the 1800s, the Irish boxer Dan Donnelly was famous for the extent of his reach. So much so, that his right arm was displayed in the Hideout pub, Kilcullen, for decades after his death. There's another memorial of Donnelly coming up for auction in Bonhams' Modern British and Irish Art Sale in London on June 13. Donnelly's Hollow (above) by Jack B is estimated to sell for between €340,000 and €570,000. The painting shows the natural amphitheatre at the Curragh, Co Kildare where Donnelly defeated the English champion, George Cooper, in 1815. The fight was seen as a victory against the British occupation and a memorial was erected at the site. The scene shows a group of visitors paying homage at the monument, and with Yeats himself standing on the hill looking down on it. Predictably, it's a deliciously hauntingly work and Maev Kennedy described it for Bonhams Magazine as having: "the atmosphere of eavesdropping on a moment in the telling of some not quite audible story. The livid green grass suggests it has been pouring rain, a very plausible suggestion in the Irish midlands, while the ominous pink glow of the sky intimates more to come and probably thunder with it." See bonhams.com.
Antique & Vintage Fairs
Planned to coincide with the Blackwater Valley Opera Festival, which takes place this weekend, the Lismore Opera Festival Fair will be held in Lismore Community Hall, Co Waterford, tomorow from 11am to 6pm (admission €3.50). On Sunday , the annual AVA Antique Fair at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Dundalk, runs from 11am to 5pm (admission €2). Expect the usual mix of the collectible and the curious with art, jewellery, porcelain, silver vintage, and oriental items.