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Sotheby's to exhibit works by Ireland's leading artists in Dublin
Sick Tinker Child, a seminal work in Louis le Brocquy’s oeuvre and a painting from the artist’s Tinker series, considered a milestone within the landscape of Irish art in the twentieth century (est. £200,000-300,000 / €252,000-378,000). Photo: Sotheby's.

DUBLIN.- Sotheby’s will present an exhibition of Irish artworks from its upcoming auction of British and Irish Art in Dublin from Friday 28 to Sunday 30 November 2014. Five works by Louis le Brocquy headline the group, including one of the most important paintings of the artist’s career and two watercolours from the celebrated ‘Portrait Head’ series, alongside works by Ireland’s leading artists, including Paul Henry, William Orpen, Jack Butler Yeats, Gerard Dillon, Mainie Jellett and Basil Blackshaw. The 23 lots, estimated to bring a combined total in the region of £700,000 (€820,000), will be offered for sale at Sotheby’s in London on 10 December 2014.

Sick Tinker Child is a seminal work in Louis le Brocquy’s oeuvre, a painting from the artist’s Tinker series, considered a milestone within the landscape of Irish art in the twentieth century (estimate: £200,000-300,000 / €252,000-378,000). It was created at the start of a career which would lead to international renown; in 1946, the Tinker series announced le Brocquy’s arrival on the contemporary art scene in Britain and Ireland, and made his name. Le Brocquy was drawn to the intractability and independent spirit of the Tinkers, observing and recording their lifestyle in sketches which he later worked into watercolours and oils.

Sick Tinker Child is the second largest from the series and the most profound rendering of the tough realities and uncertainties of life on the outside. At the centre of the composition, a stricken mother watches her sick child carried off by a stoical father figure, who must search for medical attention outside of their community; to the right, a naked sibling helplessly reaches out her arm in a gesture both tender and desperate. The fragmented Cubist planes, one of the modernist trends le Brocquy had absorbed in France before the outbreak of the Second World War, heightens the sense of dislocation. The painting’s strong social critique is leavened with le Brocquy’s deep humanity, and the image stands as an incisive symbol of Irish identity.

Le Brocquy began his celebrated series of ‘Portrait Heads’ depicting Ireland’s literary and artistic figures circa 1975. He had always been an accomplished watercolourist and in these works, the skill of his technique – thin washes worked up with dabs of colour – allows the ‘heads’ to take on a powerful and mythical presence, as seen in Study of Francis Bacon, painted in 1979 (estimate: £20,000-30,000 / €25,200-37,800). Le Brocquy and Bacon had a close friendship, and shared much in common with their Irish background and their commitment to figurative painting at a time when abstraction was the driving movement. Image of W. B. Yeats, painted in 1981, is a distillation of the artist’s distinct and radical approach to portraiture (estimate: £40,000-60,000 / €50,500-75,500). As in the other portraits in the series, the head emerges from a white background and is built up in layers which both reveal and conceal. These works are simultaneously subtle and powerful, and give a profound sense of the unique vision of the artist behind them.

The Fishing Fleet, County Galway by Paul Henry comes to auction for the first time, with an estimate of £80,000-120,000 (€101,000-151,000). Almost single-handedly, Henry defined a vision of the Irish landscape through a body of paintings that remain as evocative as the time they were created. This work testifies to his reputation as one of the most important Irish landscapes painters of the twentieth century. The composition balances sky, land and water to create a highly atmospheric work, and the addition of three sailing boats – dwarfed by the mountains and the golden cumulus clouds – heightens the romantic element. Through his use of dashes of blues, ochres and soft greys, Henry characteristically imbued his pictures with a lyrical emotion.

Portrait of Vivien St George by William Orpen, painted in 1918, is the only known portrait by Orpen of Vivien, his daughter who resulted from his love affair with Mrs Evelyn St George. The artist’s relationship with Mrs St George is well-documented and was certainly the subject of social gossip at the time. Evelyn was a wealthy American, the eldest child of George Fisher Baker, founder and President of the First National Bank of America, and wife of Howard St George, an Irish land agent from County Kilkenny. Vivien is depicted aged six in a green bridesmaid dress for the wedding of her half-sister, Gardenia St George. With her red hair and pointed chin, Vivien’s distinctive features identified her as ‘an Orpen’1. Estimated at £60,000-80,000 (€75,500-101,000), the portrait has remained in the family ever since it was painted.

There’s Life in the Fire Yet by Jack Butler Yeats was painted in 1951, in the artist’s eightieth year, and towards the end of his career (estimate £40,000-60,000 / €50,500-75,500). In the works that he produced during this period, Yeats demonstrated a growing introspection, in response to old age and the reality of death. Here he depicts an old man within a small room, staring downward caught up in this own thoughts. A figure in the background tends to a fire which is coming alight, suggested by a deft flick of orange paint. Combined with the title, there is a clear message of hope for the man represented, which might well be biographical. The paintings from the last decade of Yeats’ life are suffused with a vigour and energy, unsurprising from an artist whose irrepressible love of love is reflected in his extensive artistic career.

Composition by Mainie Jellett is a Cubist work imbued with the modernist spirit of Paris at the turn of the twentieth century (estimate: £15,000-20,000 / €18,900-25,200). It is all the more compelling that it was painted in 1925 by a female artist from Ireland, a country traditionally reticent to the avant-garde at this time. Jellett had travelled to Paris to absorb and explore directly the modern movements in France and in 1922 she fell under the spell of Cubism. The body of work that resulted forms the pivotal period of her career. Composition, a triumphant and fully developed response to the radical forms of non-representational art, is testament to Jellett’s position as Ireland’s first and most accomplished Cubist painter.

Girl at a Door by Gerard Dillon, from the mid-1950s, epitomises the artist’s delight in life in the West of Ireland (estimate £30,000-50,000 / €37,800-63,000). Painted in Connemara, where the people and landscape provided relief from the strife and turmoil between North and South for the Belfast-born painter, it depicts a bare-footed girl clasping a bowl of food, standing in the doorway of a cottage interior, the region’s iconic hills glimpsed through the window in the distance. The work belongs to an enchanting body of pictures from this period, painted in bright, unmodulated colours, with which he cultivated an honest and open aesthetic.

Race Horse by Basil Blackshaw, from 1990, is one of the artist’s most evocative renderings of a horse, the animal which has formed a central image within his career (estimate £60,000-80,000 / €75,500-101,000). In the long history of horse painting, Blackshaw has made his own distinctive and significant contribution, and within an Irish context, he is one of only a few Irish artists – alongside Yeats – to have conspicuously left his mark in this distinguished artistic tradition. Blackshaw has created a potent, self-contained image; a strong sense of unbridled freedom emanates from the canvas in the energetic, spontaneous and rich painterly surface.

1 Bruce Arnold, Orpen, Mirror to an Age, 1981, p.242

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