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Irish art back in demand abroad as Sotheby's sale raises €2.5m


John Lavery's Japanese Switzerland

John Lavery's Japanese Switzerland

Surprise lot When Hope and History Rhyme, by Rowan Gillespie

Surprise lot When Hope and History Rhyme, by Rowan Gillespie


John Lavery's Japanese Switzerland

Irish art made a dramatic return to Sotheby's yesterday, with €2.5m of 20th Century works by Irish painters and sculptors sold by the London auction house.

Sotheby's relaunched the Irish Art Sale on the 20th anniversary of its first such auction in Britain.

The top-selling item, John Lavery's oil painting Japanese Switzerland, sold for £509,000 (€692,599) to a private collector. It was most recently on loan to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.

Three paintings by Jack Butler Yeats were among the most expensive in the 71-lot sale, the dearest being The Talkers, which went for £209,000 (€284,387).

Dubliner Rowan Gillespie's bronze sculpture, When Hope and History Rhyme, set an auction record when it went for £161,000 (€219,074). It had a top estimate of £30,000 (€40,810).

Executed in 2015, it is the artist's personal tribute to the late Seamus Heaney and was inspired by the poet's words which are inscribed on its plinth.

"We had a fantastic response to our exhibitions in Dublin and London, and today we saw strong results for both established and emerging names," said Sotheby's head of Irish art Grant Ford.

"The top lot, Lavery's beautiful Japanese Switzerland, made over £500,000 - an extraordinary price, more than three times what it made in 1996.

"The Rowan Gillespie sculpture sparked a bidding war. The appeal of these artists is truly global.

"We saw bidders not only from the UK and Ireland, but also the US and farther afield, with several works purchased by buyers who were new to Sotheby's.

"The results are very encouraging for the Irish art market, and we are now looking forward to our next major Irish sale in 2016."

A public exhibition of the lot was held in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin before viewing in London.

Sotheby's was the first major international auction house to hold dedicated sales of Irish art.

Following the economic downturn, it decided to incorporate it in an auction of British and Irish art.

Sotheby's said demand from collectors of Irish art outside Ireland had increased in recent times.