Pioneering Painters: Ireland's Avant-Garde

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At the turn of the 20th century, a number of pioneering artists from Ireland broke free from conservative artistic circles in Dublin and headed for the Continent. In the cauldron of creative activity in Paris and its environs, the artists absorbed the exciting new artistic developments into their own work. Suddenly in Irish Art, we begin to see a loosening of brushwork, bolder colours, changing perspectives and formal experimentations. Exhibiting these pictures back in Ireland was a shock to conservative tastes and they were not always readily received. However thanks to the steadfast commitment of these artists to modernist principles, the artistic landscape in Ireland slowly shifted and set the way for future generations. In the Irish Art sale this September, a number of impressive examples illustrate the work of Ireland’s most ground-breaking artists. 

Irish Art
13 September | London

Pioneering Painters: Ireland's Avant-Garde

  • Roderic O'Conor, Blue Sea and Red Rocks, Brittany.
    Estimate £80,000–120,000.
    Undoubtedly one of Ireland’s most pioneering painters, O’Conor left Ireland for France in the 1880s, settling in Pont-Aven, where he befriended Paul Gauguin. He painted some of his most avant-garde paintings there, including the present work, which is from his critical series depicting the dramatic coastline of Brittany. Blue Sea and Red Rocks, Brittany is a rediscovery which appears at auction for the first time. 

  • John Lavery, Mary Borden and her Family at Bisham Abbey.
    Estimate £15,000–250,000.
    Born in Belfast, artistically trained in Glasgow and France before settling in London, Lavery was one of the most forward-thinking and successful artists of his generation. The present work, from 1925, belongs to Lavery’s celebrated 'portrait interiors' and depicts the American heiress Mary Borden in the sumptuous surrounding of her house, Bisham Abbey, Berkshire. Lavery includes himself at his easel reflected in the mirror in the background. Today, Bisham Abbey is an elite National Sport centre in England where many of Team GB's triumphant Rio Olympians train. 

  • Mary Swanzy, Cubist Landscape with Red Pagoda
    Estimate £60,000–80,000.
    This is a radical image from a radical painter whose work caused shockwaves in conservative painting circles of  Dublin in the 1920s. Mary Swanzy was one of the first Irish painters to head to Paris and experience directly the artistic excitements developing there. She encountered the works of the Cubists, the Fauves and Delaunay’s Orphism, all of which find reference in Cubist Landscape with Red Pagoda

  • Mainie Jellett, Composition. Estimate £4,000–6,000.
    Another pioneering female painter like Swanzy, Mainie Jellett headed to Paris with her artist-friend Evie Hone where they were tutored by Albert Gleizes and fell under the spell of Cubism. The present study shows Jellett’s fully developed response to the forms of non-representational art. 

  • Roderic O'Conor, Seated Nude Against Orange. Estimate £40,000–60,000.
    This nude by O’Conor emphatically reveals the artist's avant-garde credentials. Painted circa 1909, the bold and daring use of colour and brushwork is a determinedly contemporary statement which recalls the work of Henri Matisse and Georges Rouault (with whom O’Conor served on the jury of the 1907 Salon d’Automne, Paris).

  • Jack Butler Yeats, Water Lilies. Estimate £100,000–150,000.
    One of the giants of 20th century Irish art, J. B. Yeats cut his own radical path with painting that finds few parallels. As seen in the present work, he developed a highly energised, bold and dramatic painting technique combined with rich and poetic narratives, which reveal the artist’s forceful and imaginative personality. Water Lilies formerly hung in the collection of the historic Ballymaloe Country House, Cork.

  • Colin Middleton, The Toy Box. Estimate £18,000–25,000.
    Painted in 1948, The Toy Box is a superb example of Middleton's surrealist painting from the 1940s. He was arguably the leading surrealist in Ireland, although his work went through various developments, with his more representational paintings revealing the strong influence of Van Gogh. This work comes for the extraordinary collection of the Estate of George and Maura McClelland, which includes a number of other fine Middletons offered in the sale. 

  • Louis le Brocquy, Cherub. Estimate £25,000–35,000.
    Until his death in 2012, le Brocquy was Ireland’s leading contemporary artist, celebrated for the high accomplished and innovative creativity of his long career. He tried his hand at various mediums, and his tapestries demonstrate his innate understanding of form, design and colour exemplified in Cherub, which belongs to a commission from the 1950s. The artist's tapestries were influenced by the teaching of one of the medium's leading proponents, Jean Lurcat of the Aubusson Tapestry Ateliers in France. 

  • Patrick Scott, Goldpainting. Estimate £20,000–30,000.
    Amongst his contemporaries in Ireland, Patrick Scott was a singular pioneer of the new minimalist strain in abstraction. The present work dates to the mid-1960s, and the Japanese aesthetic shows the influence of his friends, the American painter, Morris Graves who lived in Ireland in the 1950s, and the work of Mark Tobey. The works possess a contemplative and affirmative quality, and the present example comes from the Estate of the Artist, appearing on the market for the first time.

  • William Crozier, Letters of a Love Betrayed. Estimate £15,000–20,000.
    Crozier's career is defined by his use of colour and abstraction to create works of great emotional intensity. He was born in Scotland, but spent formative years in Paris and Dublin before settling in London, where he became involved with the artistic and literary circles of 1950s Soho. He also became enraptured with the Irish landscape and set up a studio in Cork. The present work was commissioned by Music Theatre Wales for their Opera Letters of a Love Betrayed, which united Crozier’s passions for art and music.

  • Tony O'Malley, Two Winter Areas, Callan and Kilkenny.
    Estimate £10,000–15,000.
    Tony O’Malley moved to St Ives, Cornwall in the late 1950s where he established friendships with the St Ives school of Post-War British artists, including Peter Lanyon, Patrick Heron and Bryan Wynter, who were pushing the boundaries of contemporary art. O’Malley shared their principles, seeking a language that while abstract, was also intimately bound up with the landscape that was integral for him, which is hinted at in the title of the present work. 

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