Important Irish private collection amassed over 30 years to be offered at auction
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Important Irish private collection amassed over 30 years to be offered at auction
Sundown Carnalridge: No.2 by Colin Middleton (Irish 1910-1983). Est £3,000-5,000. © Dreweatts.

LONDON.- As well as St. Patrick’s Day in March, Dreweatts has another reason to celebrate, when an outstanding collection of artworks passionately collected and curated over the last 30 years goes up for auction. This extensive collection showcases some of Ireland’s most sought-after artists, which will be presented in a sale of Modern & Contemporary Art on March 18, 2021 (lots 1-24). The collection offers an in-depth insight into Irish art throughout the 20th century and touches on reoccurring themes, including nostalgia, escapism and a search for a sense of identity.

Highlights include three works by the celebrated artist Gerard Dillon, which illustrate his struggles with self-identity and the damning effects of the loss of his three brothers in the 1960s. Two pieces by Markey Robinson celebrate his Irish heritage and a vibrant piece by Colin Middleton captures sundown in 1960, at Carnalridge. Continuing the survey of Irish art through the ages, we are brought right to the current day, with striking pieces by contemporary artists Felim Egan and Martin Finnin.

Commenting on this extraordinary collection, Dreweatts Picture Specialist Francesca Whitham, said: “This stunning private collection celebrates 20 years of careful curation and affords a fantastic opportunity to obtain an outstanding piece of Irish art.

Examining the collection, it is evident that the overarching inspiration was the love of the Irish landscape. The artists chosen for the collection are drawn to nature in its’ purest form and a sense of escapism from the gritty cities of Dublin and Belfast. Maurice MacGonigal for example, captures our imaginations with his Landscape Towards Letterfrack, which is covered by a purple haze, with the diamond mountains beyond. Kitty Wilmer O’Brien’s almost tropical landscape showing Boathaven, Old Head in Louisburg, County Mayo is warm and inviting, as the viewer is tempted towards the water’s edge. Sean McSweeney, whose name has become synonymous with abstract and expressive views of the Sligo coastline, is featured in the collection with a dramatic and bold interpretation in a rich emerald green.”

Two works by the artist Felim Egan (Irish, 1952-2020) in the sale, are particularly striking. Whilst Egan's work has been placed in the abstract category, he always said that it was the landscapes around Sandymount Strand and Dublin Bay that inspired his work; the large empty sands, vast everchanging skies and the long horizons. Egan's canvases have become renowned for their monochromatic palette with hieroglyphic motifs and markings. The paintings are built up with layers of thin colour and stone powder ground into the acrylic.

An untitled piece by Egan in the sale, is a large-scale work in a calming shade of blue, alongside a smaller study, also untitled, in vibrant yellow. His work is tied to the place he lived and holds a deep emotional connection to the artist. They are estimated to fetch £3,000-5,000 and £5,000-7,000 respectively. Interestingly Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council, described Egan as ‘one of the most important painters to emerge from Northern Ireland in the early 1980’s.

Another artist brilliantly encapsulating the Irish landscape was Gerard Dillon (1916-1971). Originally born in Belfast, he was self-taught, becoming an artist in the 1930s and moving to Dublin, where he was a firm fixture in the artistic community. In contrast to the gritty streets of Belfast that he grew up in, Dillon was always fascinated in particular by the West of Ireland, which he captured beautifully in his work during the 1940s and 50s. In 1951 he stated “Think of the West and the life lived there. Then think of my childhood and youth in the middle of industrial Belfast. Is not the West and the life lived there a great strange kind of wonder to the visitor from redbrick city.”

In the late 1950s Dillon moved away from landscape painting to abstraction, influenced by the Abstract Expressionist movement. This later shifted when, having lost his three brothers tragically in quick succession, his works began to feature motifs such as a clown and Pierrot, submerged in surreal and fantastical backgrounds. This tragedy haunted his work, as well as themes of exploration and self-analysis. Amongst works in the sale is the untitled (Pierrot and Cat), showing Pierrot lying peacefully on his side in the upper half of the picture.

The viewer is struck by the colour contrast of the bright white against the rich red, which leads the eye to the lower half of the picture, which is much darker. A nervous looking black cat is depicted right in the centre, with two indistinct faces towards the upper right. It is possible that Pierrot and the two faces represent each of Dillon's three brothers. It is estimated to fetch £10,000-15,000 alongside another of his works titled Masked Figure and Nude, which is also estimated to fetch £10,000-15,000.

Two works by Markey Robinson (1917-1999) in the sale, feature figures within traditional Irish landscapes. Coming Home, shows two anonymous shawled women look out on a dark and atmospheric, yet calm sea. The dark brown sails of the boats, flat muted-colour palette and simplicity of the geometric composition are all reoccurring features employed by the artist and found in many of his works. It is estimated to fetch £3,000-5,000.

A second work by Robinson in the sale is an early study titled Shawlies in the Village. In this work he uses flat blocks of colour, together with a spontaneity of line and bold and definitive strokes. The overall effect and purpose of these works was not one of personal identification, but instead an embodiment of what the ‘Shawlies’ represent: a yearning for peace and serenity. Growing up in Belfast during the Second World War, these works were a commentary on escapism and looking to the more simple life of the Irish countryside. It is estimated to fetch £1,500-2,000.

Another highlight of the collection is a work by Colin Middleton (1910-1983), titled Sundown: Carnalridge, No. 2. Bursting with colour, Middleton has stripped back the landscape into the components that were used to build it, the earth, the hills and the sky, all broken into small brushstrokes stretching repetitively across the canvas. The warmth of the colour palette evokes a sense of heat rising from the canvas and we see strong influences of Vincent Van Gogh, an artist that made a lasting impact on Middleton. Born in Belfast and having trained at the Belfast Royal Academy, his work first appeared at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1938. This work is estimated to fetch £3,000-5,000.

To see the full extent of this breath-taking Irish private collection (lots 1-24 of the Modern & Contemporary Art sale), please see the online flip catalogue here:

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