Irish art grosses nearly $1.5 million at Hatch auction

It was a sale that had international repercussions, and when it was all over a treasure trove of Irish art from the living estate of Malcolm Brush, about 40 paintings, sold for nearly $1.5 million at a weekend sale held February 16-17 by Richard D. Hatch & Associates. In all, over 1,400 lots realized more than $2 million. Prices quoted do not include a 10% in-house buyer’s premium or a 15% online and absentee buyer’s premium..

This was, by far, our best auction in my 27 years of being in this business, declared a stunned and breathless Richard Hatch, owner of the firm that bears his name. With over 500 registered bidders, the auction gallery was packed and excitement filled the air. We had about ten buyers fly in from Ireland, plus a couple from London and many more from around the United States.

Mr. Hatch also reported having 1,600 bidders registered online, plus active and aggressive phone and absentee bidders. Most of the Irish art ended up returning home to the Emerald Isle, as one gallery in Northern Ireland bought up the top eight lots. One Irish gentleman who is building a golf community in Tryon, N.C., where the collection was discovered, also bought a few of the works.

It was an auctioneer’s dream,Mr. Hatch said of the consignment. I had gotten a call from Mr. Brush’s guardian, who wasn’t fully aware of the extent of the collection. I drove to what I thought was a normal house call, not far from my showroom. What I saw was the finest collection of art I’ve ever seen. It didn’t take long for word to spread across the Atlantic. This was a huge sale.

The top two lots were reserved for works by Jack B. Yeats (1871-1957), widely regarded as the most important Irish painter of the 20th century. When his oil-on-canvas painting “Circus Hands” sailed past the high estimate of $200,000 to hammer for a staggering $300,000, the crowd burst into applause. That was followed by his work titled Face to Face,which changed hands for $210,000.

Works by Gerard Dillon (1916-1971), the self-taught artist known for his depictions of rural and folk life in Ireland, also did well. Curragh on the Rocks — a marvelous example of the artist’s early work “ achieved $140,000, against a high estimate of $8,000. Another oil-on-canvas, “Swans on the Boyne, far surpassed its high estimate of $6,000, gaveling for a respectable $60,000.

Four watercolors by Louis Le Brocquy (born 1916 ), were offered, all from the artist’s Tinker period in the late 1940s. Examples are scarce and prices reflected that. The Bull, a top example of the artist’s work from the period, fetched $140,000; The Outcast went for $90,000; Sketch Near Lucan realized $45,000; and Tinker Woman hit $42,500. Interestingly, Mr. Le Brocquy’s son bid on several of his father’s paintings, but came up empty-handed.

Colin Middleton (1910-1983) was probably the most eclectic Irish painter of the 20th century, moving between Cubist, Surrealist and Expressionist styles. A fine example of his earlier work, The Farm Hand, rose to $70,000. The same amount was paid for an oil painting by Hans Hartung (1904-1989), a German-born French artist who had personally given the work to Mr. Brush.

One of the few paintings to remain in this country was Father Jack Hanlon’s oil-on-canvas work, The Masher. It sold to a local lady of Irish descent for $30,000. Mr. Hanlon (1913-1968), was ordained in Maynooth, Ireland, in 1939 and became an artist of some renown during the course of his double life as a priest and painter. He is credited with developing an intuitive semi-Cubist technique.

An oil painting by Nano Reid (1905-1981), the only female Irish painter in the group, was the first lot offered at the Saturday session. Titled “Island Harbour,” it set the tone for the rest of the day, surging past the high estimate of $5,000 to gavel for $23,000. Three lots later, Ms. Reid’s work “Golee Far Viente” topped its predecessor, realizing $27,000.

One of the few sculptures in Mr. Brush’s collection“ a 32” bronze by Marino Marini, and a favorite of his — sold for $120,000, about what was expected. Mr. Marini (1901-1980) was an Italian-born sculptor whose works have been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the world. Also, a 64 bronze garden statue by Victor Salmones from a different estate had a high bid of $6,000.

Mr. Hatch was incredulous when he realized what treasures had been tucked away in a North Carolina storage bin for nearly 60 years. There, covered with old paper and dust, was quite possibly the finest collection of Irish art still in public hands. The trove comprised the living estate of Alan Breedon Malcolm Brush, born near Dublin, Ireland, in 1918.

Along with his wife, Meg, Mr. Brush was an active patron of the arts. The couple befriended many of Ireland’s top artists of the day. They were also close friends with the owners of the Victor Waddington Galleries in Dublin (since closed). Many of the pieces sold at the Hatch auction were purchased from the Galleries in the ’40s and ’50s. Most still had their original exhibition catalogs.

While Irish art certainly commanded center stage for most of the sale, it was not all that changed hands. Fine art pottery was well represented. A scarce Fred Robinson vase found a new owner for $1,900; a Walley vase realized $1,000; a set of eight plates by Emile Galle fetched $900; and Teco vases realized prices ranging from $250 to $550 each.

Fine jewelry was in evidence, too, as big-name pieces brought handsome prices. An 18k gold Van Cleff and Arpels cigarette case lit up the room for $2,750; a Patek Phillippe pocket watch made $2,200; a Cartier Santos men’s wristwatch, still in the original box, garnered $2,100; a Tiffany diamond and sapphire brooch was a bargain at $275; and a Tiffany 18K gold writing pen hit $350.

Art glass did well. A Tiffany Favrile tall compote hammered for a respectable $3,500, and the same price was realized for a Daum Nancy cameo vase. A scarce red Galle cameo vase was a steal at $750; a Steuben four-light chandelier rose to $850; a Moser enameled box went for $400; and a nice Lalique bowl found a happy new owner for just $275.

A large collection of Tiffany sterling was highlighted by a water pitcher that brought $1,600, and a pair of candlesticks that sold for $1,200. Large sets of sterling flatware went for reasonable prices, as a 100-piece set of Gorham Chantilly realized $2,000 while a 79-piece set of Stieff Rose went for just $1,000.

A great selection of paintings on porcelain plaques came up for bid. Leading the pack was a 1 x 16 KPM example of a violin player, selling for $14,000. Meanwhile, a smaller KPM of a maiden brought just $1,800. Six glass lamps were sold, at prices ranging from $450 to the $1,100 someone paid for a Bradley & Hubbard figural owl lamp.

A collection of vintage handbags went for a fraction of what buyers would pay in stores. Judith Leber examples brought $250-$400 each, while a Gucci bag hammered for just $325. Whiting & Davis early mesh purses sold for prices as low as $20 and topping out at $180 for one in the Art Deco style. Dish sets were a bargain, too, as a huge 191-piece English transferware service sold for $2,750.

A sampler collection was highlighted by a 1747 American example selling for $950, and a gorgeous 1812 English piece garnering $1,600. A collection of Stevengraph silk woven pictures intrigued the crowd, as they don’t often come on the market. A John L. Sullivan boxer image went for $800; a Buffalo Bill & Wild West Show achieved $650; and fox hunt scenes sold for $100-$160 each.

Where else can you buy a Hummel figurine for $60, or a brilliant period cut glass bowl for $50, and in the next breath see hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of rare fine art change hands? asked Mr. Hatch. The luck of the Irish was certainly smiling down on this sale.

Richard D. Hatch & Associates is celebrating 27 years of consistently impressing customers with quality consignments and exciting sales. Their next big auction will be held the weekend of May 4-5. For details, you may visit them online at To consign an item, estate or collection, you may call them directly at (828) 696-3440. The e-mail address is [email protected]