With their regular Important Irish Art exhibitions at Clandeboye Estate's Ava Gallery in Bangor, Adam’s Auctioneers continue to exhibit masterworks by renowned and less well-known artists hailing from both sides of the border.
On show for a limited time before being auctioned off in Dublin on Wednesday, September 26, it is a pleasure to view such a diverse range of paintings in a relatively informal setting – with the added frisson of knowing that purchase is a possibility when they go up for sale in Dublin.
While always undeniably impressive, however, it's easy to predict that the ever-reliable stars of the show will likely be pieces by Ireland’s most popular artistic luminaries such as Jack B Yeats and Paul Henry. This time around is no different – yet there are surprises.
For example, alongside Yeats's later chromatic oil pieces for which he became well known (such as 'My River', painted when he was 80-years-old) are earlier, markedly different paintings. These include a much more figurative watercolour piece entitled 'A Fully Loaded Side Car' (see below).
This piece depicts two travellers moving through a barren landscape at speed on a horse-drawn carriage. While travel would become a central theme in much of Yeats’ later work, this painting is a far more literal representation than the elder artist would have painted.
Perhaps a transitional piece between earlier and later works his 'Lough Owel from the Train' – a 1923 oil painting – is also on show. Although again exploring the tension that is brought about by travel at speed, this carefully composed piece is unexpectedly serene.
Similarly, the later Paul Henry pieces on display demonstrate the artist's aesthetic progression. 'The Wicklow Mountains', for instance, has a lighter palette and much more fluid application of paint than, say, 'The Bog At Evening' (also on display). While the brighter hues and lighter mood of the former are of notable contrast to the latter, I much prefer the physicality of the earlier works.
In 'The Bog At Evening' the west coast skyline becomes a thing of intense power, with the ballooning clouds thick and tangible as they play with the evening light reflected in the water below. This is Henry at his best, and to appreciate the original painting is a world away from several prints of the same painting I have seen for sale in other venues.
The centrepiece of this exhibition, however, is Louis le Brocquy’s 'Procession with Lilies' (main image). Currently owned by Independent News & Media, the potential sale of this painting created quite a buzz of late. On the day it reached €320,000, close to the €350,000 that many predicted.
Dominating the back wall of the gallery’s main room, the viewer can survey le Brocquy's masterpiece – hung alongside other pieces from the INM collection – from a distance as one enters the gallery.
Depicting a host of Dublin schoolgirls as they return from the Feast of St Anthony, this painting is at once full of youthful joy and energy yet remains ethereal and otherworldly, the abstract whiteness of the figures’ flowing costumes giving them a ghostly air.
'Procession with Lillies' is le Brocquy playing with the notion of recollection and considering how the mind stores fleeting moments. The fragmented forms of the young women lack solidity – they are memories, intangible, burnt on the mind but fragile and prone to disappear completely.
After viewing such abstract works, the intensely detailed photorealistic works of George Washington Brownlow and Martin Mooney break up the exhibition along with understated pieces such as Aloysius O’Kelly’s highly engaging 'The Game of Chess'.
As always, the main appeal of these exhibitions lies in the knowledge that big-name artists will be on show. And while this time around there is a welcome injection of curatorial innovation, and a few new names to learn about, it is the giants who continue to impress.
Important Irish Art was on display in the Ava Gallery until September 26.