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Tuesday, 4th August 2020
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Buying Irish art - leading auctioneers on where the value currently is Back  
The Irish art market bears similarities to the upper end of the Irish housing market - and, like the housing market, forecasts of its demise have been exaggerated - although the boom years are past us for now. As in all mature markets, value lies in selection and quality. Leading auctioneers Ian Whyte, John de Vere White and Rory Guthrie, offer readers their advice on buying. (Pictured on the left is 'The Queen of Spain’s Daughter' by Colin Middleton, which was bought for £7,500 sterling from a gallery in London in 1992 and made € 42,000 at Whyte’s ten years later).
Ian Whyte, Managing Director, Whyte’s Fine Art Auctioneers
I usually tell potential investors to only buy works that they will be happy with on their walls but I do know several who hoard paintings in secure warehouses who have done very well on works they personally abhor. I still maintain however that the most successful investor in art will be the collector who gets not just financial gain but also the pleasure of ownership and an appreciation of the artists’ work. By matching your taste with good independent advice you should be able to choose works that will both appreciate in value and decorate your home.

Investment in art is very much like investment in other areas. ‘New issues’ would equate to works by young up and coming artists. While these are exciting and interesting it should be remembered that like new issue shares, a few will bring spectacular results, some will gain moderately over many years, some will remain static in value, and some will only be useful for covering the damp patch on the wall!

Living artists showing good gains over the last ten years include John Shinnors, Graham Knuttel, Brian Ballard, Basil Blackshaw, Martin Gale, William Crozier, Peter Collis, I expect these artists to continue to show gains on most of their prime period work.

A good bet is buying established artists whose works are not yet fetching astronomical prices. Names that spring to mind include Brian Bourke, Joe Dunne, Felim Egan, Anne Madden, Sean McSweeney, Michael Mulcahy, Patrick Scott, Anita Shelbourne, just to mention a few. These can still be bought at galleries and auctions at prices (from €2,000 to €20,000 plus) that will seem very inexpensive in years to come.

Many Irish artists of the mid 20th century are, despite recent gains, still rather undervalued. These include George Campbell, Gerard Dillon, Letitia Hamilton, Jack Hanlon, Evie Hone, Mainie Jellet, Norah McGuinness, Dan O’Neill, Colin Middleton and Nano Reid.

Do remember that not every work - even by famous artists is worth buying - look for quality works produced at the artist’s prime.

The ‘blue chips’ of Irish art are still Yeats, Le Brocquy, Orpen, Hone, O’Conor, Osborne and Lavery, and decent small works by these Irish masters available from €10,000 to €30,000 - will always be treasured by collectors. More serious works will cost up to €2 million, which, when compared to the top artists of other countries are still very reasonable at their current levels.

Good landscape paintings by the great Ulster artists, Paul Henry, James Humbert Craig, Frank McKelvey, and Maurice Canning Wilks are in perennial demand. Since their deaths, in 1995 and 2001 respectively, landscapes by George Gillespie and Norman McCaig have seen gains of up to 100 per cent per annum. In England the great art patron Charles Saatchi recently predicted that the next big move will be on landscapes his reputation of making vast profits from art would suggest his advice be taken seriously.

Generally speaking investment in art is for a long-term return, usually at least five to ten years. Costs for the investor include commissions ranging from about 10 per cent to 50 per cent depending on price and the method of purchase or disposal. Insurance will usually cost from 50c to €1 per €100 annually depending on value and security measures.

John de Vere White, Managing Director, de Veres Art Auctions
Ireland has become accustomed to low interest rates and this, coupled with our growing prosperity has created an ever-increasing herd of hungry investors anxious to find a safe home for their hard earned cash. Property and art have been major beneficiariies of these monies.

The great advantage about purchasing art is that one has a reasonably affordable entry level and sensibly purchased works are usually easy to unload if the need arises.

When one is asked to advise on ‘art investment’ the usual old clichés abound. Buy where you like, thread carefully, seek advice, don’t get carried away etc. all correct and admirable sentiments.

However, the most essential ingredient in buying art is to have a genuine interest in the subject matter. If investment is the prime motivator keep well clear, as you will almost certainly get it wrong.

If you meet the correct criteria to buy art I would offer the following advice. Before spending a penny educate your eye, go to The Municipal Gallery, The National Gallery and the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

These are all galleries of integrity where you will be able to see what is available and you will be surprised how reasonable prices are in many cases. Remember Ireland has a triple crown winning team in terms of artists at the present time. If you bide your time you will be spoilt for choice. The other outlets for art are the auction rooms. The various Dublin auction houses hold 3-4 sales per year with usually circa 200 works on offer in each sale. This is a lot of paintings and you will find the good, the bad and the ugly in every sale. You will find both very good value and very bad value, however if you have given yourself a little time to train in your eye there is no reason why you should not prove a successful and prudent buyer.

Rory Guthrie, HOK Fine Art, Auctioneer/Appraiser
Did the recession in the art market that was predicted by some for last year ever happen? If it did happen, nobody noticed it, because those bits of the market, which didn’t do very well, were overshadowed by the continual rise in prices for fresh, rare quality goods.

The art market in general has always been quite specific; if a quality work of art appears fresh to the market, it will make a good to record price regardless of what the rest of the economy is doing.

These results are the ones that are reported and grab the headlines, making most assessments of the market somewhat superficial. The price of 1830s furniture should not be judged by the prices achieved at Lissadell.

The picture market has held up with the same rules applying. Even with every auctioneer trying to get a piece of the action, the demand has met the increased supply. Minor artists like Gillespie, Maccabe and Markey Robinson are plugging the gaps and are selling at increased prices.

Of course, Ireland still turns its back on earlier non-Irish, and old Master pictures, for which there is no market and it doesn’t appear that there are collectors for them. They usually go abroad where the profit is made, while the Irish buyer competes ever stronger for his Percy French or his bit of Yeats, for which he has certainly paid ‘viel geld’.

The demand for Irish art is as strong as ever with viewings extremely well attended. A reflection of this is shown in the fact that many artists now choose to use the auction salerooms as a means to sell, as opposed to the traditional gallery.

In 2003 HOK Fine Art achieved record prices for a Joseph Patrick Haverty (The Limerick Piper; €225,000) and Sara Purser (Portrait of Constance and Eva Gore-Booth; €240,000). For 2004, T.P Flanaghan, Cecil Maguire are still value, while Nora McGuinness, Mary Swanzy and Mainie Jellet are good long term buys. Equally proficient prices for these female artists are still behind their male counterparts. It is probably better to leave the top end of the market alone, or else buy an old master.

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