A painting of small-town life in Co. Mayo that inspired Éamon de Valera and was sold 67 years ago for just £250 was sold last week by a Donegal man, David Britton of Adam’s Fine Art Galleries in Dublin for a record breaking one million euro.
The Jack B Yeats painting, which epitomises de Valera’s idealistic vision of rural Ireland was sold at auction last week and struck a new record for the sale of an Irish painting having made over €1 million.
“A Fair Day, Mayo” so impressed Eamonn deValera when he saw it on display in Dublin in 1927 that he borrowed it for his office.
An unidentified Irish buyer bought the Yeats last week, paying well above the original estimate of €500,000-€800,000 at an Adam’s auction.
The oil painting, depicting the hustle and bustle of a country fair, was painted in 1925 and once hung in the Suffolk Place offices of Eamon de Valera when he was leader of the newly formed Fianna Fail.
Although Yeats had witnessed abject poverty during his travels in the west of Ireland, the picture instead portrays a village street scene “joyous with the sounds of industry” and features a proverbial “comely maiden”. This was the idealised image of rural contentment de Valera articulated in “the Ireland that we dreamed of” radio broadcast on St. Patrick’s Day, 1943.
However, de Valera did not buy the Jack B and it was given back to the artist.
While de Valera may have “valued material wealth only as a basis for right living”, it was a decision his heirs may regret. The painting was subsequently sold by the Dawson Gallery in 1944 to a south Dublin family for £250 (about €300) in an exceptionally worthwhile investment decision.
The buyer was Tedcastles Oil company founder JP Reihill of Deepwell House, Blackrock who was a close friend of the legendary President and the painting has remained in the family’s ownership ever since.
David Britton who is married to Karen, a grand daughter of the original owner and also a director of Adam’s Fine Art said, “JP was a great friend of Dev’s and also a great collector of paintings - mind you many of his investments in the art world did not bear anything like the same return. Essentially he bought paintings because he liked them.
“At one stage he had a number of paintings by Yeats but gradually disposed of them - he really had the eye for recognising something different and unique - what people today might refer to as the ‘X-Factor’
“The painting which measures 2ft. by 3ft. depicts a type of ‘Dancing at the Crossroads’ scene for which Dev is fondly remembered’
“There hasn’t been a Yeats picture on the market for many years and there is a pent-up demand there for really exceptional Irish pictures.
“This painting was never on the market and had the added connection of hanging on the walls of Dev’s offices - “It had everything going for it and it really was great to see it being recognised for what it is.”
David added that the sale was also a welcome shot in the arm for the Irish art market saying, “In the present financial climate many people are turning away from property and the stock markets and investing in art.
“The fact that we had 3 bidders over €900,000 and six active bidders in the room in the present financial climate puts Irish art in perspective - it is a very sound investment at present.
“I suppose you could say that a return of €1 million is a fair day’s work but on a more serious note, there are valuable art pieces out there, many may be lying in attics and suddenly emerge. It is always worth checking our website at Adam’s which can often carry a very worthwhile investment.”