Lot 109
  • 109

Louis le Brocquy, H.R.H.A.

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • Louis le Brocquy, H.R.H.A.
  • Sick Tinker Child
  • signed and dated l.r. LE BROCQUY 46; titled, signed and inscribed with the artist's address on the reverse
  • oil on gesso primed hardboard
  • 60 by 90cm., 23¾ by 35½in.


Gimpel Fils, London;
Sotheby's, London, 18 May 2001, lot 236;
Adam's, Dublin, 5 December 2006, lot 61;
Private collection


Dublin, Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, 'The Le Brocquy Room', 1992;
Dublin, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Louis le Brocquy, Paintings, 1939 - 1996, 1996, no.10;
Limerick, The Hunt Museum, Allegory and Legend, 2006


Earnán O'Malley, Louis le Brocquy, Horizon, Vol.XIV, no. 79, July 1946, reprinted in Dorothy Walker, Louis le Brocquy, 1981, p.75;
Maurice Collis, Louis le Brocquy, 1947


The board appears to be sound and the work appears in good original condition. There are two faint indentations to the baby's dress near lower left edge and a vertical abrasion above the right hand child's head, approx. 5cm long, which is integral to the board and the time of the artist's painting. The work does not appear to require restoration and is ready to hang. Ultraviolet light reveals small flecks of retouching to the extreme edges and to the above mentioned indentations by the baby. Held under glass in a wooden box frame; unexamined out of frame.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Sick Tinker Child is one of the most important works within le Brocquy’s career – a painting in which the conviction and personality of one of Ireland’s greatest artists is powerfully felt. In 1946, at twenty-nine years old, the Tinker series from which the present painting belongs announced le Brocquy’s arrival on the contemporary art scene in Britain and Ireland, receiving wide critical acclaim. It contains key themes of identity and belonging that evolved in various guises through his career, from the austere grey period in the 1950s (including his seminal A Family, 1951, National Gallery of Ireland) to his distinct and compelling Ancestral and Head series from the 1960s onwards.

Le Brocquy first encountered the Tinkers in 1945 whilst working near Tullamore, County Offaly. This travelling community peculiar to Ireland, trading traditionally as tinsmiths, claim descent from those displaced by the persecution and famine in Ireland’s history. Living outside of accepted society with their own language and rituals, their intractability and independence resonated with le Brocquy: 'Most of all I was impressed by their insistence on freedom - freedom from every external regulation - observing only their own tribal rules, their tradition. Not, perhaps, altogether unlike the independence of the artist within society.’ (Louis le Brocquy, The Inner Human Reality, film documentary, RTE 1, 21 February 2006)

Le Brocquy observed and recorded their lifestyle in sketches which he later worked into watercolours and oils, Sick Tinker Child being the second largest from the series. The last of these oils he painted in London, having moved there in 1946 where he joined a circle of artists which included Keith Vaughan, John Minton, William Scott, McBride and Colquhoun, Victor Pasmore, Ben Nicholson, John Piper, Graham Sutherland, Jankel Adler and Francis Bacon. The Tinker series made le Brocquy’s name: Gimpel Fils represented him on the strength of it, and the first picture from the series, Tinkers Resting, was later purchased by the Tate Gallery.

In the sketches and paintings produced, le Brocquy focuses on the various facets of the Tinker community: their vitality, mystery and wildness. In this his most profound rendering, le Brocquy draws out 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 their right, a naked sibling reaches out her arm, scared and helpless. le Brocquy recalled of the present work years later: '..You see the child is being carried out...I saw this happen. A child being carried out to a doctor who is one of the settled group so there is a certain added terror to it. What would happen to the child, would the child be kept. Hence the gesture of the sister' (interview between Louis le Brocquy and Yvonne Scott, 28 April 2006).

Behind the group, the barrel-shape of the traditional painted caravan which was still prevalent at the time can be seen, and into the background, the wilderness of the landscape is depicted in fragmented planes. Their predicament is a result of their own choice but it is an independent spirt le Brocquy admired: ‘They took to the road – in time they became the road – that which lies outside the security of a settle society – their wild nature as defiantly distinct as that of a tiger.’

In a contemporary review, Ernie O’Malley recognised the deep humanity and social critique within the paintings: ‘[The Travelling community are] outside of the closely organized life of the parish unit, looked on with mistrust and suspicion, but generally treated with the tolerance given in the country to groups outside of its parish life. They become a symbol of the individual as opposed to organized, settled society, and to the growing power-control of the State; a symbol, also, of the distressed and dispossessed people of Europe’ (Horizon, Vol.XIV, no.79, July 1946). With this understanding, Sick Tinker Child is layered with meaning and stands, with the series, as an iconic body of work. It is a vivid depiction of an ancient strand of Irish life as well as a meditation upon the crushing conventions of mid-century Ireland and the alienation suffered by those daring to defy them. The work also speaks internationally, painted at a time when the idea of an outcast people had international resonance in a ravaged, post-war Europe. Sick Tinker Child is a vital contribution to the artistic consciousness of the period and in its Cubist planes shows le Brocquy’s absorption of the modernist trends on the continent, which he had absorbed first hand in France before the outbreak of war. The fragmented surface also underlines the mood of the painting, heightening the sense of dislocation and otherness.

Le Brocquy’s Tinker series is as a milestone within the landscape of Irish art in the twentieth century, made at the start of a career which would lead to international renown. In works such as the present, le Brocquy has created an image with Irish identity at its heart, yet which also has an incisive modernism that extends far beyond Irish shores. This is his remarkable contribution, and few artists achieved this synthesis so successively.