Important Irish Art

This painting is expected to fetch £800,000 at auction. Visit the Ava Gallery before it, and other stunning works, travel to Dublin

The title of the latest Adam's Auctioneers exhibition in the Ava Gallery in Bangor may sound overly functional, yet there really is no more accurate way to describe the show than ‘Important Irish Art’. For the next ten days, the gallery is displaying works by a veritable who’s who of Irish painters and sculptors from the past two centuries, before they will go to auction in Dublin.

The scope of this exhibition is enormous, with pieces valued between £3,000 and a whopping £800,000. Indeed, part of the thrill is being given the chance to see top class works from lesser known artists hung alongside paintings by such luminaries as Paul Henry, William Conor, Colin Middleton and Jack B Yeats.

As one might expect, the highest valued works on display are from the aforementioned artists, with Yeats’ ‘Jazz Babies’ expected to fetch between £500,000 and £800,000 at auction. Whilst this piece is undeniably visually impressive, I much prefer his more subtle and less cluttered works on show, such as the much-celebrated, melodramatic ‘Unforgetting Background’.

Equally stunning (and slightly more affordable) is Paul Henry’s ‘Wind Blown Trees’. Depicting the distinctive leafless, craggy trees of Achill Island – forever frozen in a near-horizontal position due to the harsh Atlantic winds – this piece manages to characterise the complexities of the Irish landscape.

It is a harsh winter scene, yet tranquil purples dominate the background, warm pinks and light greens up close, with a style instantly reminiscent of one of his main influences, Whistler. It is also interesting to see some of Henry’s earlier book illustration works on display, alongside his landscape work.

Whilst it is a joy to see work by artists of this calibre outside a museum setting, it is also a pleasure that some of the most breath-taking paintings on display come from lesser-known artists.

An unexpected highlight is Lilian Lucy Davidson’s ‘Sheep Grazing’, her expert use of oils bringing depth to what could otherwise have been a mundane mountain-side scene. Instead, a familiar grey sky becomes a thing of great intensity, highlighting the detailed coats of the livestock.

'Windblown Trees', by Paul Henry Martin


There are four sculptures on display, the most inspirational of which is by Harry Clarke. Titled ‘Bluebeard’s Last Wife’, this is a backlit miniature stained glass panel, housed in a mahogany cabinet (which was crafted by Dublin’s renowned furniture-maker, James Hicks).

Whilst the cabinet is impressive, the stained glass is unforgettable. Thought to have been part of an anthology, it depicts the sadistic and murderous Bluebeard lying in wait for his unsuspecting bride. She dances elegantly on a bridge, shrouded in mystical blues, whilst he gazing up from below, the calming hues seguing into blotches of warrior reds as he fiendishly brandishes a scimitar.

Congratulations must be given to Adam’s on the variety of works included in this show. Subject matter ranges from the exotic (as above, and also in Aloysius Kelly’s Egyptian themed ‘A Game of Draughts') to the local, with a selection of paintings depicting the Clandeboye landscape in the which the Ava Gallery is housed.

It is no mean feat to condense a wide-reaching exhibition such as this into one gallery, but the curation has been handled with a knowledgeable sense of spacing, the Ava Gallery managing at once feel roomy yet intimate.

The only disappointing aspect of the show is that some of the frames don’t suit the paintings, with ornate oils occasionally displayed in sterile black frames. However, the choice of frame often helps tell the stories of the previous owners, some of which are further detailed in the catalogue (which is so in depth, it is a considerable undertaking in its own right).

Of course, art is always a matter of personal taste, and the real joy of an exhibition like this comes from seeing such a huge variety of material with the added frisson of knowing that the option is there to purchase such works. This truly is important Irish art at its finest.

Important Irish Art runs until November 25, including a Saturday opening on November 19 from 2 – 5pm.