An Auctioneer's Lot
by Damien MatthewsEntries Posted Weekly on Fridays
Sean and The Paycock
Attended a private preview of Deirdre Kinahan’s new play Wild Sky at the house of a friend last Friday. A powerful piece exploring the extraordinary energy and complexity of events in the lead up to the 1916 Easter Rising, it was not in any way twee. Outstanding performances from the three young players – and a script of near perfection – make it a notable addition to the cannon of Irish plays on the subject. You know that sore bum feeling one gets an hour into a half-okay play. Not here, gripping from the get go. Hopefully it’ll receive the future reviews and plaudits it deserves. There does seem to be a bit of grubby profit making going on as regards this year’s Centenary of the Rising but this isn’t one of them. It’s an honourable, introspective piece.
Saturday was the night of the Ballymacad Hunt Ball at Richard Corrigan’s Virginia Park Lodge. Gave the new hip its first serious road test going for broke on the dance floor. And, to top it off, bought in the hunt auction a day’s hunting the stag with the Ward Union.
Sunday and I was on the rostrum conducting a great house clearance, contents of 11 Herbert Park, Dublin 4. Went really, really well, despite my sweating off about three buckets of champagne from the night before. Mr. & Mrs. Hickey, the owners, lovely people, so glad it went well for them.
I’m sure that you can see I’m cheating here. This blog is supposed to be about art, antiques, auctions, that sort of thing – rather than me filling it in with my personal diary, so I’m going to pull myself up on it. Here’s something that happened on the Sunday which reminded me of a story about Sean Keating, one of our finest painters long since dead.
In Mr. Hickey’s home office there hung, for the past forty years, a very sensitive charcoal portrait by Keating depicting the great Irish Edwardian stage actor, F.J. McCormack. In character, he’s depicted as Joxer Daly in the original Abbey production of Sean O’Casey’s Juno and The Paycock. We catalogued it, and the entire contents, and then went through the motions of putting on a successful house contents auction. Before you know it, there I am, hung-over on the rostrum, selling Lot. 427, the very Keating. Drawing breath, I praise the quality of the artist, and the actor, before taking bids from the floor. A very elderly man I hadn’t noticed before, begins to bid quietly. Even though I’d contacted Michael Colgan about the Keating (he had just opened the same play in The Gate Theatre the week before) it sold between estimate at €2,300. To the elderly man (in his eighties if he was a day). Afterwards the porters told me that the man had not only just found out about the auction that morning, but that he had also searched the past forty years looking for this portrait. F.J McCormack was his father.
Now for that story about Keating. Not a lot of people know this, but it’s true.
Back in 1927 when Victor Waddington decided to set up his gallery on South Anne Street, he began to make personal calls on those artists he thought his new gallery should represent. Up until then there really were no commercial galleries in Ireland for artists to show and sell their works. The annual exhibitions at The RHA and other Societies were the only outlets. Waddington’s enterprise was the talk of the Dublin’s studios – who he would choose, and who he wouldn’t. For, you see, Waddington had money. And nuance. His family produced and imported those religious trinkets sold at Knock and the like. And as Ireland at that time was in the throes of the cult of the Virgin Mary business was booming. It’s ironic as the Waddingtons were Jewish. Not only that, but to the shame of the catholic church, anyone in those days wishing to attend a Jewish wedding (or Jewish religious ceremony of any kind) had to get special dispensation from Archbishop McQuaid. Imagine. Anyhow, although profitable, this life of religious trinkets was not for Victor.
He decided to call upon Sean Keating. Reasonably well-known by this time, Keating was however delighted to open the studio door and find the tanned behatted Victor Waddington in the hall. The dialogue went something like this (I heard it from his framer);
“Ah, Mr. Keating, might I trouble you for a few moments”
Feigning unrecognition Keating shouts at him, “I paid that bill last month” and slams the door.
He smiles from behind it. And waits.
Waddington knocks again.
“You misunderstand me, I’m Victor Waddington”.
“The art dealer, I’m opening my new art gallery on South Anne Street”
“You are, and what’s going to be in it?”
“The best of the best and that’s why I’m here, I’d like to represent you”
“You would now, and what’ll it cost?”
“Well, you see, that’s the thing Mr. Keating, it’ll cost you nothing, all sales will be commission based. If you don’t sell it’ll be nothing”
“And if I do?”
“Before we get into all that you have to understand, there’ll be wall-to-wall red carpet, linen clad walls, complimentary wine, professional lighting…. I’ll make you famous”
Keating, famously tight with the money, cuts right across him, “I’m already famous, how much?”
The door slams instantly shut with a thunderous wallop. Waddington turns, begins to walk back down the bare hall. He gets about five steps when Keating sticks his head out again and shouts, “Try Jack Yeats”.