A Magnificent Collection of Irish Art

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This November, Sotheby's will offer 100 lots from one of the largest and most important collections of Irish art in private hands. Owned by Brian P. Burns, this collection is a wonderful record of Irish history, its people and places. Highlights include a vibrant and unusual work by Roderic O'Conor, decadent ballroom painting by F. J. Davis and some classic offerings by Jack B. Yeats

A Magnificent Collection of Irish Art

  • Jack B. Yeats
    Misty Morning
    Estimate £150,000-250,000
    A monumental, solitary figure - typically Yeatsian, lean but strong and square-shouldered - looks over the water's edge as a boat emerges from the fog. The sea was an endless source of fascination for Yeats; he loved its mystery, its grandeur and the sea-faring tales that belonged to it. It can also be viewed as a semi-biographical work, the figure representing the artist as an older man looking to his past – memory was a key theme that occurred throughout his oeuvre.
  • Roderic O’Conor
    ‘Romeo and Juliet’
    Estimate £300,000–500,000
    O’Conor was one of the pioneering painters of his generation, spending his career in France and befriending the likes of Gauguin. This present, highly charged painting holds a unique spot within his career, drawn from his imagination rather than directly from the subject as was his usual practice. The rich and sensual reds, pinks, oranges and yellows emphasize the couple’s passion. It originally belonged to Henry Roland, the dealer responsible for securing the artist’s reputation after his death, and it was he who gave the work its title.
  • James Brenan
    Bankrupt
    Estimate £40,000–60,000
    This is an important record of state education in Ireland in the 19th century. Brenan was a popular painter and earnest in his desire to improve the state’s literary and education progress. In the present painting, Brenan critiques the current state of affairs, with boys playing in the classroom and the empty desk of the teacher, chair askew, emphasising the absence of the educator.
  • F. J. Davis
    St.Patrick’s Hall, Dublin Castle
    Estimate £200,000–300,000
    The scene of glamorous men and women preparing to dance in the grand state ballroom provides a rare glimpse of Dublin high society. The painting highlights the marked contrasts in the fortunes of Irish society in the 19th century – while the wealthy enjoy a lavish social event, the majority of Ireland’s people were suffering greatly as the Irish famine played out.
  • Sir John Lavery
    The Beach, Evening, Tangier
    Estimate £100,000-150,000
    One of the most fashionable painters of his generation (he taught Winston Churchill to paint), Lavery travelled extensively and first visited Tangier in 1891. It was the start of lifelong attachment to the city. He established a winter studio, visiting annually until 1914, and painted a series of striking beach scenes capturing Tangier’s golden sunlight and mesmerizing waters.
  • Sir William Orpen
    Miss Annie Mary Geraldine 'Dolly' Harmsworth: Interior Portrait
    Estimate £80,000-120,000
    Orpen was one of leading portrait painters of his generation working primarily in London. Orpen was commissioned to paint both Annie Harmsworth and her sister Violette in the family’s home in Kensington and here masterfully captures Annie’s personality. He had an exceptional ability to render different textures and surfaces through effortless brushwork. 
  • Walter Frederick Osborne
    Study from Nature
    Estimate £60,000-80,000
    This was painted in the mid-1880s, a key period in the development of British and Irish post-Impressionism when artists were learning directly the naturalistic en plein air methods of France’s painters, especially Jules Bastien-Lepage. The soft tones and square-brush technique in the present work reveal his influence, depicting a lady working in her cottage garden, freshly-dug potatoes by her side.
  • William Leech
    The Tea Trolley
    £50,000-70,000
    Throughout his career Leech painted table-top views, interior and exterior, in which he effectively explored the treatment of light. Under the shade of a tree, light bursting through in the upper corners, stands a trolley with a china cup and saucer, a book underneath and an inviting deck chair in the corner. It is a wonderful evocation of a calm, summer’s day.
  • Jack B. Yeats
    The Laugh
    £100,000-150,000
    In this vibrant painting set in a Sligo circus, two clowns bound into the ring in a wheelbarrow act, one balancing on a wheel while the other supports his legs. Frenetic brushwork and bold colour enhance the energy of the scene. As a boy Yeats adored the travelling circuses in the west of Ireland, and the excitement of the spectacle informed many of his paintings throughout his career.
  • Beatrice Campbell, Lady Glenavy
    The Vain Suit
    Estimate £30,000-50,000
    Lady Glenavy was born into an artistic family and was herself a talented artist who painted, sculpted and designed stained glass. As seen in the present work, she had a unique painterly style and vision, combining fantasy and realism with a striking sense of design and colour. A shepherd kneels in front of a beautiful lady, their romance overseen by Cupid and symbolised in the playful dogs and coupled horses bounding into the distance.
  • Rowan Gillespie
    The Yearning (Misty Morning)
    Estimate £8,000-12,000
    One of Ireland’s leading contemporary sculptors, the Burns’ have been great patrons of Gillespie. The present piece is modelled on the strong Yeatsian figure in Misty Morning, which the Burns’ commissioned so they could still enjoy the presence of Yeats’ painting when it was on loan to exhibitions.
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