Sunday, May 20, 2018

From West Brittany to Wolverhampton - A Tale of Provenence















There was an amusing example of provenance by inference in the antiques section of Saturday’s Irish Times on 12 May. In a puff piece about Sheppard’s impending auction of the contents of Lissanisky House in Durrow (15/16 May),  Arminta Wallace writes about an interesting painting on offer by Frank O’Meara, the Irish impressionist artist who died of malaria in 1888 at the age of 35. He was, we are told, the grandson of Barry O’Meara, a former owner of the house, who was Napoleon’s physician on St. Helena. (Speaking of the history of the house auctioneer Philip Sheppard says in the article: “What we do know is that at one time it belonged to Napoleon’s physician”).  The painting (Lot 62) is entitled West Brittany: A Coastal Relief and it has a very reasonable guide price for an O’Meara of €3,000 to €5,000.

The casual reader of Wallace’s article would be forgiven for assuming that the painting had remained in the erstwhile family home over the generations. Not so I fear. When I spoke to the auctioneer Philip Sheppard he was quite open about this not being the case. “It came recently from a long-standing client of ours, a private collector.” The impending sale, he told me, includes both the contents of the house and additional items from other clients of the auctioneers. Sheppard disagreed when I suggested that the client in question had taken advantage of the O’Meara connection to place the piece in a context where an inference could be made about its provenance. He maintained that few would make the assumption that a work painted 60 years after Barry O’Meara’s brief tenancy would have found its way back to the house. However, Arminta Wallace’s article was unfortunately devoid of these pertinent dates and facts, leaving the distinct impression that there was such a connection.

The prosaic truth of the matter is that this particular O’Meara came from Cuttlestones Auctioneers in Wolverhampton where it was sold in November 2017 for £380. The UK auction house clearly had no idea what they had – although in fairness O’Meara is hardly a household name in Irish art circles either. The prescient buyer at Cuttlestones brought it back to Ireland to hang briefly where the artist’s grandfather had once lived briefly. A tenuous but romantic connection. Regarding its provenance prior to its sojourn in Wolverhampton we know nothing. The auctioneer has faith in his “longstanding client”. Those qualified to judge deem it a genuine O’Meara, the signature, the subject matter and even the canvas type all fit. There were a few interested parties at the sparsely attended auction and it sold to a well-known Dublin art dealer for €9,000. The buyer is a man noted for his strictness in matters of provenance so we should assume it’s the genuine article.

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Saturday, May 05, 2018

Don’t Mess with Mr. Banville

You initiate a literary spat with John Banville at your peril. Hidden behind that jaded sardonic exterior there lies a coiled viper, ready to destroy you should you dare to impugn the pellucid integrity of his every utterance.  Barbara Ann Porte so dared in the April 19 edition of the New York Review of Books. She wrote a 500 word letter complaining about his “typically misogynist and inaccurate description” of Oscar Wilde’s mother in his review of a Wilde biography. Banville apparently described Lady Wilde as “admirable if slightly preposterous”. Porte went on to complain about the general neglect and disparagement of Lady Wilde(Speranza was her pen name) by male writers. Banvile’s response to this lengthy diatribe was a masterpiece of patronising economy:  “Ms. Porte’s letter is a touch strident, but I admire her for springing so vigorously to the defense of “Speranza”.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Eric Bibb at the Tivoli Theatre


I don’t get to many gigs these days so it was a real treat to see Eric Bibb in action last night at the Tivoli Theatre. Unlike the arse-numbing Vicar Street seating, the Tivoli is a really comfortable venue. You sink down into your plush seats and let the music flow over you. There’s no allocated seating so we arrived shortly after the doors opened and got excellent perches a few rows from the front. Bibb had a first-rate band with him. He was accompanied on 12-string guitar, slide guitar and occasionally mandolin and harmonica by Canadian country-blues notable Michael Jerome Brown. On drums he had the grizzled Paul Robinson who played for 20 years with Nina Simone – a demanding role I’d imagine. There was also an excellent guy on bass guitar and stand-up bass but his name escapes me.  A great lineup who proceeded to put on a great show for an enthusiastic audience. Bibb is an interesting character. His background is hardly typical for a blues man. He attended Columbia University, had the great Paul Robeson for a godfather and left for Europe when he was quite young. He currently lives in Sweden. He’s a charming and personable man who quickly established an easy rapport with the audience. He opened with the classic Going Down Slow and proceeded to take us on a tour of his back catalogue. There was a lot of gospel-flavored songs such as Now Is the Needed Time, and Don’t Let them Drag Your Spirit Down with the audience singing and clapping along. He also included a nice tribute (Call My Name) to drummer Samantha Banks who died recently.  A great night was had by all. Afterwards of course there was the mandatory trip down Francis Street to Fallon’s – a fine authentic old pub – where we enjoyed a perfect pint (or two).




Monday, April 23, 2018

Now That’s a Long Shot


I was walking my dogs on Killiney Beach a few days ago as is my wont. It was close to low tide and I was throwing a tennis ball into the sea for Shyla to fetch. Missy, my other dog, is not competitive and refuses to participate. When bending down to pick up the ball where Shyla had placed it for more action, I noticed a brown square shaped object about a foot from the water line. At first I thought it was an unusually regularly-shaped stone but it turned out to be a small elegant Leica digital camera in a case. It was a bit sandy but the case seemed dry so the incoming tide had not engulfed it yet. Another 30 minutes or so and it would have done. I brought it home and fiddled with it for a while to see if I could  ascertain any clues from the stored images. The battery however was flat so I couldn’t get it going. I put it by thinking I’d drop it down to Dun Laoghaire Garda station later. Distractions set in. First I had to sit through the trauma of Munster’s hammering by Racing 92 followed by a restorative pint in the Druid’s Chair. It was my turn to cook so I put together an egg-fried rice dish with garlic prawns and then settled down for the evening. Flicking through my Twitter account I came upon a tweet forwarded to me by S. She was offering my services as a beachcomber to a woman called C. who had tweeted: “My precious camera was lost on Killiney beach yesterday evening … “ and showed an image of a Leica. S. Knew I walked the dogs there most days and told C. she’d ask me to “keep an eye out” for it. What are the odds? It transpires that C. lives around the corner from me so camera and owner have been reunited.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Showdown in Richmond

This could end in tears. As we saw recently in the England/Scotland match, hunger and intensity are the deciding factors when two evenly matched teams collide. I feel that a sorely aggrieved England will bring huge intensity into this match. Farrell is the fulcrum around which the team revolves and he should always be played at out half - as Jones now realizes. The pit bull Hartley is back also and you know England are going to play a brutal pragmatic game. The Irish pack is stronger - especially in the back row but I worry about our backs - especially defensively. England’s lethal back three, Watson, Daly and May could exploit this weakness. It’ll be very close but if it becomes a goal kicking competition I fear the worst. Farrell will not falter. Based on the crucial importance of home advantage and the hunger born of injured merit I suspect England will win