Alternative Art Markets: Irish Art
With the art world hubs - London, Hong Kong and New York – dispersed across the globe and the current economic climate that we find ourselves in, why not take a glimpse at the art market in your locality? As I write from the outskirts of a cold and rainy Dublin, Ireland – I cannot help but marvel at the artistic talent that I am surrounded by. The Irish art market is small (Not unlike the country itself!), yet it has its own unique imprint – saturated with diverse artistic styles from both emerging and established artists.
Sotheby's London pioneered the sale of Irish Art in 1995. For a brief period between 2012-2014, Irish Art had been marketed in conjunction with British Art as a "British & Irish Art" sale. Although a standalone Irish Art Sale was welcomed back in their New Bond Street location in 2015 – I was lucky enough to witness the 2019 Irish Art Sale live in person. That sale total tallied to 2,923,062 GBP - an over 2 million pound increase from the Irish Art Sale in 2016. The popularity of Irish art is constantly on the rise, with a global collector base. The clambering popularity of Irish art is not surprising, especially considering how every person under the sun claims to have some sort of distant Irish heritage (My grandfather's sister's cousin's husband's dog was Irish!). To be honest, I think everyone enjoys tracing a potential lineage to the Emerald isle. Just like its people, its art and stylistic influence have been found across the world.
The little island, also known as The Island of Saints and Scholars, has always been its own microcosm of art and creativity, this stems from far beyond its Celtic roots and nestles deeper into its Neolithic ancestry. Older than the pyramids and Stonehenge, New Grange – located in the Boyne Valley, just down the road from me - stands as a testament to the architectural and artistic awareness of a pre-urbanized civilization. Adorning the entrance stone to the passage tomb is a series of triple spirals, lozenges and chevrons (Diamond-shaped engravings) which are classified as some of the earliest examples of Irish art located on the island.
Contemporary Irish artists come from a powerful tradition of artistic dexterity. The innovative artistry and longstanding quality of Irish art make it a desirable collector’s piece, those from the island and beyond. As with all markets, we have our notable, established artists who characterize the footprint of what defines Irish art. 20th Century Irish Art is a collector’s paradise, it encompasses an extensive stylistic range from impressionistic to abstract art, at various price points. The geographically isolated Ireland has always adamantly pursued a connection to the rest of the world and this has essentially formulated the development of its various artistic styles. Examples of this are found in the art of Mainie Jellet (1897-1944), who, alongside her artist companion Evie Hone (1894-1955), moved to Paris in 1921 and began to explore non-representational art. Jellet holds a firm place in Irish art history as she pioneered the concept of abstract art in Ireland. In 1944, with Evie Hone, Louis le Brocquy, Jack Hanlon and Norah McGuinness, Jellett co-founded the Irish Exhibition of Living Art - a yearly exhibition of Irish abstract expressionism and avant-garde Irish art.
Jack Butler Yeats (1871-1957) paves the way in terms of formulating an over-arching, aesthetic categorization of Irish Art. His versatile work is revered internationally and he is praised for his expressive portrayals of Irish life. Cemented as an integral component of 20th Century Irish Art, his loose and figurative style of painting is characteristically "Irish" as the scenes in his work span to cover an assortment of subject matter. Displayed in The National Gallery of Ireland, his popular work – The Liffey Swim (1923) - captures the exciting atmosphere of an annual sporting event that has taken place in Dublin since 1920.
In stark contrast, Yeats’ colorful, figurative works often appear at auction. The latest was sold here last month at Whyte’s auction house, entitled Waiting For The Ferry, Low Tide, 1946, and achieved €135,000. The 20th century and its artistic output in Ireland produced various notable names, who have each carved out their own trail of continued influence on the art created in Ireland today.
Paul Henry (1876 -1958) is considered to be a pillar of Irish landscape art, his landscape paintings depict the West of Ireland, but like Yeats, they also come at a hefty price tag. However, artists, such as Norman J. McCaig (1929-2001) and John Skelton (1925-2009) stem from the same era, depict very similar scenes and as they are relatively unknown outside the island, their work is priced considerably lower.
Portraying landmarks around Dublin city, historic events and even the wild Irish landscape are elements popular among contemporary artists and collectors alike. The vast Irish landscape has captivated and had an influence on each, subsequent generation of artists. Even Gottfried Helnwein (b.1948), a contemporary Austrian-Irish, visual artist whose expressionistic work is centered on the portrayal of the human condition, was entranced by the island of Ireland, and quite unlike many other works in his oeuvre, has produced a series of hyper-realistic Irish landscape scenes.
The little, artistic island of Ireland continues to produce and nurture artists, those both born and/or settled on Irish soil. Like generations before them, young Irish artists continue to create and innovate, whether their mode of expression lies in abstraction or photorealism, here are several, young, contemporary Irish artists that have grasped our attention – watch this space!
About the Author: Chloe Aboud is an art historian, fine art connoisseur and art market analyst. She holds a BA in The History of Art & Architecture and French from Trinity College, Dublin. She also holds an MA in Art Business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London. She is a member of the Irish Association of Art Historians and has worked with a variety of private art corporations, including Art on Superyachts and ArtRatio.
For further information regarding how to find art by Irish artists to add to your new or existing art collection, please email Chloe at email@example.com. She's a specialized art shopper to help you find what you are looking for.
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