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Superlative Masterpieces From Around The World Resurface At Sotheby's Annual Irish Sale
Resurfacing from an American Private Collection, Landscape, Cassis by Roderic OʹConor. Photo: Sotheby's.
LONDON.- Sotheby's Seventeenth Annual Irish Sale in London, to take place on Tuesday, 29 March, 2011, brings together exceptional masterpieces by eminent Irish artists. The group of works, many never before offered on the market, boasts superb and rare pictures by John Lavery, Roderic O’Conor and Mary Swanzy. Louis le Brocquy is represented with thirteen works that span his career, and a selection by today’s most sought after Irish artists, including Basil Blackshaw, John Shinnors, William Scott, Colin Middleton and Sean Scully, complete a sale that draws attention to the richness of Ireland’s longstanding artistic output.

John Lavery’s portrait of Lady Gwendoline Churchill, A Lady in Brown, comes to auction for the first time in its history, from a private collection in the UK. Passed down through the generations following its purchase in 1921, the painting was probably executed during the summer of 1915. Between the closing years of the nineteenth century and the end of the First World War, Lavery produced a series of canvases that were essentially studies in brown. He had observed the muted harmonies of brown and black in Velazquez’ work, and intuited the aesthetic power of such a scheme when applied to portraiture. Lady Gwendoline was noted by a contemporary to possess a ‘subtle twilight beauty’ and the present picture, produced at the threshold of the Jazz Age, is a summation of Lavery’s essential concerns as a painter during this period: an acute and Whisterian sense of colour, an sublime exploitation of the compelling gaze of the female sitter, and a subtle handling of paintwork. A Lady in Brown is estimated at £100,000‐150,000 (€117,000‐175,000).

Resurfacing from an American Private Collection, Landscape, Cassis by Roderic O’Conor is among the finest of the artist’s most dazzling and sensuous landscapes. Painted during the summer of 1913 in Cassis, a small fishing port on the Bouches du Rhône, it dates to one of O’Conor’s most productive seasons. The intense Mediterannean sunshine and pulsating colours had a rejuvenating effect on the artist, who found himself in the company of Fauve painters Henri Manguin and Albert Marquet. The present work features one of the smaller peaks of the imposing limestone cliffs of Le Cap Canail. Using a ‘lean’ mixture of paint, O’Conor achieves a scumbled surface that vividly approximates the parched landscape. The unusual portrait format is cleverly resolved by dividing the composition into broad horizontal zones of colour, each bounded by edges that form an up arrow, mirroring the shape of the mountain. The colouration of Gauguin is evident here; the two artists had formed a friendship in 1894, just a year after Gauguin returned from his first trip to the South Seas. On seeing O’Conor’s submission of six canvases to the 1913 Salon d’Automne exhibition, the poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire singled out O’Conor’s preservation of the tradition handed down to him by Gauguin. It is possible to surmise that the Irish artist’s landscapes exhibited the same yearning for an earthly paradise, and Landscape, Cassis, estimated at £120,000‐180,000 (€140,000‐210,000), is one of the most accomplished of his works to appear at auction.

The sale will offer a work by one of the most important female Irish artists. Sunlit Landscape by Mary Swanzy is a dazzling modernist painting by one of the first artists in Ireland to embrace the experimental and innovative cubist style. Estimated at £60,000‐80,000 (€70,000‐93,500), it is one of Swanzy’s most accomplished cubist landscapes ever to appear at auction. It encapsulates all the best aspects of her work, from the warmth of the colour palette, the sophisticated flow of the composition through to the command of shape and form. Swanzy achieved international recognition during her long life, and early in her career she had lived in Paris, witnessing the groundbreaking artistic developments of the first decade of the twentieth century. The present work’s bright colours and curved, architectonic forms show the influences of artists of this period. However, Sunlit Landscape is part of a series of lyrical Provencal cubist landscapes produced following a stay at Grasse in the South of France in the winter of 1926‐1927.

Daniel O’Neill is represented in the sale with one of the most expressive and affecting works by the artist to ever appear at auction. On Reading Dear Theo is a portrait of Vincent van Gogh. The Dutch artist is instantly recognisable here from his own self portraits, and O’Neill deftly captures the strong brow, red hair and beard, and characteristic intensity of expression. The composition and treatment clearly reference van Gogh’s landscapes, from the atmospheric swirl around the orb like sun, to the undulating Cypress trees. Estimated at £30,000‐50,000 (€35,000‐58,500), On Reading Dear Theo conveys a pathos that suggests a kinship with the artist, and indeed O’Neill would once more reference van Gogh during his career.

Louis le Brocquy is Ireland’s most distinguished living artist, and Sotheby’s sale will present no fewer than thirteen works. Headlining the group is Image of Samuel Beckett (Opus 473), an oil on canvas estimated at £60,000‐80,000 (€70,000‐93,500). Le Brocquy became good friends with Beckett, who he met in Paris in 1978, and the series of images of him produced by the artist have gained iconic status. Rather than producing a portrait as an example of verisimilitude, le Brocquy sought to capture the essence of humanity, which resulted in the powerful imagery of the present work. A testament to le Brocquy’s extraordinary ability as an artist, Image of Samuel Beckett has the same striking immediacy as the day it was painted almost thirty years ago.

Further works by le Brocquy include Study (Man with a Towel) from the artist’s seminal ‘Grey Period’, executed in 1951 and estimated at £70,000‐100,000 (€81,500‐117,000); the much later Laussel Venus (Opus 708) from a series of works known as ‘Human Images’ that span from 1996 to 2004 (est. £40,000‐60,000 / €46,600‐70,000); Woman in Sunlight, which signified his departure from the sombre, monochrome tones of his ‘Grey Period’, and preempted his ‘White Paintings’ in which he exploits his formal concerns with light and shadow (est. £60,000‐80,000 / €70,000‐93,500); and several still lifes of fruit and flowers with estimates ranging from £12,000‐20,000 (€14,000‐23,300). Travellers Making Twig Sign, a sketch from the le Brocquy’s celebrated Travellers series in pen, ink and watercolour, conveys an intimacy and vitality as engaging as the works in oil (est. £18,000‐25,000 / €21,000‐29,100).

A group of four still lifes by William Scott includes Double Grey Fish Still Life, an oil on canvas dated 1982 that is suffused with an elegant minimalism. The still life consumed Scott throughout his career; his execution and innovative play with form and composition established him as a thoroughly modern artist. In the present work, he uses a paired down colour palette to represent the dead fish, plate and pan, with the pan’s earthy red tones punctuating the otherwise monochromatic palette. It is estimated at £60,000‐80,000 / €70,000‐93,500.

The sale will offer a strong selection of contemporary works. Basil Blackshaw is considered one of Ireland’s greatest living artists, and Red Dog with Muzzle, an oil and charcoal on canvas estimated at £30,000‐50,000 (€23,300‐35,000), depicts one of his favourite subjects. Blackshaw’s work is characterised by the animated representation of the Northern Irish countryside and the people and animals that populate it. Mars, Hearted Scarecrow and Birds by John Shinnors dates from 2009‐2011 and displays the bold abstract style the artist is so well known for today (est. £20,000‐30,000 / €23,300‐35,000). Shinnors’ recent works are among his most accomplished, and the present oil on linen is a rich tapestry of colours, textures and interplaying shapes. While non‐representational on the surface, the painting remains rooted in reality and reward the viewer with its inventive and thoughtful vocabulary, with the sources of inspiration provided by the title of the work. William Crozier and Hughie O’Donoghue also feature, with The Standing Stone (est. £25,000‐35,000 / €29,100‐40,800) and Parable of the Dutiful Son (est. £7,000‐10,000 /€8,200‐11,700) respectively.

Further works by the great Irish masters include The Child of the Sea by Jack Butler Yeats (est. £100,000‐150,000 / €117,000‐175,000) and Street Corner Shop by Colin Middleton (est. £20,000‐30,000 / €23,300‐35,000).

Viewing in Ireland

Lismore Castle Arts, Co. Waterford
Saturday 5 March, 10am – 6pm
Sunday 6 March, 10am – 3pm

Sotheby’s, 16 Molesworth Street, Dublin 2
Tuesday 8 March, 10am – 5pm
Wednesday 9 March, 10am – 5pm

The Belfast Waterfront Hall, Gallery Level 2, Lanyon Place
Friday 11 March, 10am – 5pm
Saturday 12 March, 10am – 5pm

Viewing in London

Sotheby’s, 35‐35 New Bond Street, W1A 2AA
Thursday 24 March, 9am – 4.30pm
Friday 25 March, 9am – 4.30pm
Sunday 27 March, Noon – 5pm
Monday 28 March, 9am – 4.30pm

Auction in London
Tuesday 29 March at 11am

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium

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