Ulster Artists

Renovated, relocated and revitalized: the Ava Gallery at Clandeboye Estate is back with an exhibition of important, and very expensive, Ulster Artists


The cheapest painting on display in the ‘Ulster Artists’ exhibition at the newly re-opened Ava Gallery is valued at a measly 1,000 euros; the most expensive, by Gerard Dillon, is 60,000 euros.

And those are only the ones that will be auctioned off by Adam’s auctioneering firm, who recently took over running the gallery for Lady Dufferin of the Clandeboye estate, in the Important Irish Art sale. Some of the pieces on loan from Adam’s clients, such as the exquisite oil and tempera works by John Luke, could probably aspire to even higher price tags if they went under the hammer.

‘I think it was important to have them in the exhibition,’ David Britton, of Adam’s auctioneering firm and the curator of this show, says of the pieces on loan. ‘These are museum quality pieces borrowed from private collections. It might be the only chance people get to see these works.’

It isn’t a chance to miss. The artworks on display, from the stark lines of William Scott’s ‘Still Life’ to the astonishingly detailed, almost 3D ‘Donnelly’s, Ballycastle’ by Hector McDonnell are simply staggering in their range and quality.

John Luke’s ‘Dancer and the Bubble’ alone would make the trip to the Ava Gallery worthwhile. A contemporary of F E McWilliam, indeed they were roommates for a time, Luke was a notoriously precise and fastidious man, in his art and his life, and an influential figure in the development of Ulster art. In ‘Dancer and the Bubble’ the frozen energy of the dancer vibrates on the canvas and the colours are saturated but glassy as ink. ‘Effervescent,’ Britton calls it and he says that many people have tried to emulate the style but few have succeeded.

‘Attending the Lobster Pots’ by Paul Henry is, in contrast, almost desaturated, ghost-like and grey. The figure of the fisherman pulling in the lobster pots is set against the vast emptiness of the ocean. It’s iconic power is impressive enough that Dr SB Kennedy used this image for the cover of his book Paul Henry.

In the contemporary collection ‘The Eve of Departure’ by Mark Shields, whose commissioned works include a portrait of the Prince of Wales currently hanging in the headquarters of the Royal Gurka Regiment is another striking piece. It’s all shadows and implication, making fingers itch for a light switch to throw inside the canvas.

Britton points out ‘Evening Session’ by John B Vallely as most people’s favorite. He thinks that Vallely, a talented musician as well as an artist, has captured the moment with his half-circle of session musicians.

Other important artists included in the exhibition are Noel Murphy, Paul Henry, Sir John Lavery, Colin Middleton, Daniel O’Neill, Basil Blackshaw (whose work is the highest valued of the contemporary pieces) and more. It’s the first time that many of these paintings have been exhibited together.

It is an impressive collection of art. Even more so since the gallery isn’t even opened properly yet. There is still some structural work to do on the building before the gallery opens full time in August for the Clandeboye Festival with an exhibition called ‘The French Connection’.

Oh and if you fall in love with any of the pieces, the Important Irish Art auction is on June 2.

See you there.

Ulster Artists exhibition is on at the Ava Gallery from the 15 - 29th April. The Important Irish Art auction is held by Adam's on June 2.

Tammy Moore