Sotheby’s annual Irish Art sale will be led by an exceptional group of works from the collection of Sir Michael Smurfit. Over thirty years, Sir Michael assembled an array of Irish artworks to furnish his K Club luxury golf and hotel resort, and private residence, in Co Kildare. From the very beginning, he sought out the best examples available on the market, to the extent that his collection features not only many of Ireland’s most famous artists, but also some of their finest paintings. His passion for Jack B. Yeats, John Lavery and William Orpen is reflected in the number of significant works by these artists, and several of the pictures by Yeats have become well known through ‘The Yeats Room’ at The K Club, where they took pride of place.
The collection is distinguished further by Louis le Brocquy’s Travelling Woman with Newspaper, one of the artist’s most significant works, and singular representations that are also marked by their quality, such as William Conor’s depiction of the Dublin Horse Show at the Royal Dublin Society and Frederick William Burton’s A Blind Girl at a Holy Well from 1839, which was engraved by The Royal Irish Art Union and became one of the most popular engraved images of its time.
Nineteen works from the collection with a combined pre-sale low estimate of £2.6 million / €2.9 million will headline Sotheby’s Irish Art sale in London on 9 September 2020, to be preceded by a public exhibition, by appointment, at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin from 27 to 30 August. Accounting for the breadth of the collection, a further group or Irish works will be offered in Sotheby’s Irish Art sale in 2021.
Sir Michael’s collecting tastes also diverged beyond Irish painters, most particularly towards Scandinavia with his acquisition of a superb selection of pictures by the Swedish artists Carl Larson and Anders Zorn. Other highlights include Alexej von Jawlensky’s Abend in Reichestshausen and Sir Alfred Munning’s The New Standard, Presentation of Standards 1927. Decorative objects are also represented, including a 9ct gold replica of the Ardagh Chalice. In total, over 50 works from the Collection of Sir Michael Smurfit will be presented in a series of auctions to be held in London across the calendar year, with a combined pre-sale low estimate of £5.3 million / €5.9 million.
“Many of the works in this collection will be familiar to us from the walls of The K Club and, together with those from Sir Michael’s private residence, it is a great honor for us to offer a collection of this calibre at auction. One of my earliest memorable moments at Sotheby’s was our Irish Art sale in 2000 which saw the record price for Louis le Brocquy’s Travelling Woman with Newspaper, an iconic image by one of Ireland’s leading artists. The works being offered in the Irish Art sales over the next year are by Ireland’s greatest painters – Jack B. Yeats, Sir William Orpen, Sir John Lavery, Louis le Brocquy, amongst others. It is a market that was catapulted onto a global platform in the 1990s by advocates such as Sir Michael, who has played a key role in bestowing Irish artists with the reputation they deserved and still deserve today. We hope these Irish artists, together with the works in other categories, will appeal and excite collectors worldwide.”
“Collecting art has been a wonderful adventure over the last thirty years or so – the friendships and friendly rivalries formed, the sweet successes and the bitter ones that got away. At the start, I had little and knew even less. I feel incredibly fortunate to have owned many beautiful paintings and deepened my knowledge of many exceptional artists. Their works have given me great pleasure, and many others who have enjoyed those that were in The K Club. The time has now come for me to pass some of them on and I have decided therefore to put them to auction. I hope others will be able to gain the same excitement and joy from them as I have done.”
Irish Art, London, 9 September 2020
Louis le Brocquy (1916-2012), Travelling Woman with Newspaper, oil on board, 1947-48, est. £700,000-1,000,000 / €786,000-1,123,000
When last sold at auction, at Sotheby’s twenty years ago, where it was acquired by Sir Michael, Louis le Brocquy’s Travelling Woman with Newspaper established an auction record for the artist, with a price that has remained unbeaten to this day. The artist considered this painting one of only four pictures that would define his legacy, each from one of the fundamental periods of his mature work. Of that group, this is the only work to be held in a private collection and as such it represents a unique opportunity to acquire one of the four pillars upon which le Brocquy’s career rests. The pinnacle of the short series of pictures known as the Tinker paintings, which the artist produced in London between 1946 and 1948, Travelling Woman with Newspaper shows a matriarch of one of the innumerable traveller clans who roamed the lanes and bog-roads of Ireland. She stands in confrontation with the viewer under an Irish sky of silver cloud, with a landscape of green fields, peat bogs and beaten-metal lakes stretching behind her. Le Brocquy’s traveller pictures stand as the first truly modernist works in the canon of Irish art, their muscular cubism reflecting the artist’s deep knowledge of Picasso.
Sir John Lavery (1856-1941), Lady Evelyn Farquhar, oil on canvas, 1906, est. £600,000-800,000 / €674,000-898,000
One of the artist’s most sensational portraits, Lavery’s stunning painting of Lady Evelyn Farquhar addresses the question of art and fashion with consummate success. Though depicting the contemporary fashion of the day, the artist solves the problem of a portrait becoming dated over the years by capturing something that is timeless, by making the picture a thing of beauty. By deliberately simplifying the staging and paring back any distracting clutter, Lavery focuses on the radiant presence of the sitter, set against a neutral backdrop with only a giltwood bergère and side table with white flowers for adornment. Confidently engaging the viewer and holding a pale blue sunshade, Lady Evelyn strikes a note that is at once classic and modern. The portrait was commissioned by the sitter’s husband, Captain Francis Douglas Farquhar, a year after their marriage and following the birth of their daughter. Attaining the rank of Colonel by the outbreak of the First World War, he was killed in action in 1915; after eight years as a widow, Lady Evelyn remarried in 1923.
Jack B. Yeats (1871-1957), In Tír Na Nóg, oil on canvas, 1936, est. £300,000-500,000 / €337,000-561,000
Purchased by Sir Michael from Waddington Galleries in 1988 and now appearing at auction for the first time, this sublimely poetic painting hung in The K Club’s ‘The Yeats Room’. It depicts a boy laying prominently in the foreground and looking up, with a dreamy air, from the book he is reading; visionary figures looking out at a ship floating on a chrome-coloured sea appear on the horizon. The title refers to the Land of Youth of Old Irish literature, a recurring subject in various forms in Yeats’ paintings, often represented in the symbolic form of golden-headed boys. Rather than a literal representation, In Tír Na Nóg is a comment on the inspiration that youth can inspire, as the artist invites as to enter the mind of the young boy reading his book and understand the limitless potential of the imagination. The work is executed on one of Yeats’ larger canvas sizes measuring 24 by 36 inches, examples of which have been strongly sought after at auction recently.
Sir John Lavery, Les orangers du Beau Site de Cannes (Tennis Under the Orange Trees), oil on canvas, 1929, est. £300,000-500,000 / €337,000-561,000
Coming to the market for the first time in twenty-five years, this work takes as its subject a sporting theme with which Lavery achieved his first notable success at the Paris Salon in 1885, with The Tennis Party, purchased by Aberdeen Art Gallery in 1926. Although tennis became popular at the end of the 19th century, the game took off in the early 1920s, with the spread of cheap newspapers and sports reporting of increasingly popular tournaments brought the game to the masses. The renowned tennis courts of the Hotel Beau Site at Cannes, screened by orange trees, immediately appealed to Lavery on his visit to the French Riviera in 1929. The artist’s step-daughter, Alice, a keen tennis player herself, is seen serving in the painting, with one stroke capturing the glamour and appeal of the game under the Mediterranean sun.
Sir William Orpen (1878-1931), The Window: Night, oil on canvas, circa 1907, est. £80,000-120,000 / €90,000-135,000
Last seen at auction in 1994, this intimate, evening interior belongs to Orpen’s series of ‘Night’ paintings between 1906 and 1908, in which the artist’s wife, Grace, bathed in candle light, reclines by a window through with the night sky at late dusk can be seen. The setting is the artist’s house in Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea; the subject a presentation of formal opportunities to masterfully handle tone, composition and atmosphere. Orpen’s refined and soft colour palette and sense of private seclusion lends to the overall harmony of the picture, which contains no hint of the troubled relationship with Grace that would subsequently ensue.
Augustus John (1878-1961), Portrait of W.B. Yeats, oil on canvas, 1930, est. £70,000-100,000 / €79,000-112,000
Over his career, John appears to have produced four completed oil paintings of W.B. Yeats, of which this work is the only one still in private hands. He was introduced to Yeats during the early years of the twentieth century at the home of Will and Alice Rothenstein in Hampstead, London, and the young painter quickly found inspiration in the poet’s verse and romantic vision. In 1907 on the suggestion of Lady Gregory’s son Robert, he was commissioned to create an etching for the frontispiece of A.H. Bullen’s volume of the poet’s collected works. John duly received an invitation to stay with Lady Gregory at Coole Park for the sitting, and after some initial hesitation, accepted the offer. Many years later, in the summer of 1930, John was invited by the writer Oliver St John Gogarty to stay at his new hotel in Connemara, where Yeats was also a guest. Gogarty arranged for John to do a ‘serious portrait’ of the poet. One of two works which survive from this sitting, the present portrait, which hung in The Yeats Room at The K Club, strikes a distinguished tone befitting Yeats’s position as Ireland’s most important poet entering the last decade of his life.
William Conor (1881-1968), The Dublin Horse Show, oil on canvas, est. £80,000-120,000 / €90,000-135,000
Established in 1868, the Dublin Horse Show is now an annual International event held each year at the Royal Dublin Society. With a life-long passion for horses, Conor would have undoubtedly visited the event on numerous occasions. This work depicts a lively spectator who looks out at the viewer, immediately drawing us into the picture plane and leading our eye up past the silhouetted bystanders to the majestic horses in the centre of the composition. In contrast to the depictions of local Ulster characters and their everyday working life for which Conor became well known, here the onlookers are smartly dressed in the fashions of the period, clearly highlighting the Dublin Horse Show's status as the sporting and social event of the year.
Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist Art, London, 8 December 2020
Sir Alfred James Munnings (1878-1959), The New Standard, Presentation of Standards 1927, oil on canvas, est. £250,000-350,000 / €281,000-393,000
One of the greatest equestrian painters of his generation, this picture by Sir Alfred Munnings is a smaller version of a painting he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1930. It appears to have been painted on the spot on a bright May morning in 1927 when Munnings witnessed the dress rehearsal for the ceremony of the Presentation of Standards. Held since 1748, the private event in which the King or Queen in their role as Colonel-in-Chief, present a standard to the Household Division – the five regiments of Foot Guards (Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards) and two cavalry regiments (the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals). On 24 June 1927 the ceremony took place for the first time on Horse Guards Parade at Whitehall. Although the composition was dictated by the event itself Munnings was able to combine a truthful rendering of a historical scene with a balanced and dramatic artistic expression of colour light and movement.
19th Century European Paintings, London, 9 December 2020
The collection is also distinguished by the presence of important works by two of the leading Swedish artists active around 1900: Carl Larsson and Anders Zorn. Sir Michael fell in love with Swedish art on his journeys to Sweden sourcing antique furniture for The K Club. Leading the Swedish paintings is Anders Zorn’s Woman Skiing (est. £300,000-500,000 / €337,000-561,000). Evocative of the Swedish winter, the work depicts a woman in typical Dalarna dress, and is virtually unique in Zorn’s oeuvre in its ski subject. The sale will also present two quintessential Larsson watercolours which celebrate family life in Sundborn. Cock-a-doodle-do, it’s seven o’clock (est. £150,000-200,000 / €168,000-225,000) depicts one of the artist’s daughters waking up on a sunny morning at Lilla Hyttnäs. Painted some nineteen years later after his own children had grown up, Say Hello to the Gentleman! (est. £150,000-200,000 / €168,000-225,000) shows the Larssons’ former cook Hilma with her young daughter Greta walking unsteadily towards the viewer, surrounded by art nouveau foliage.
London Matthew.Floris@Sothebys.com +44 (0)20 7293 6000Matthew Floris
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