Sir John Macneill’s Road Culvert

Last week, after months of fruitless searching I found another work by Olive Adelaide Swanzy (OAS), this time quite by chance when I was just doing a routine trawl of Irish art listings on eBay.The painting was not attributed to any artist and the description – Irish Modern Art Watercolour Painting of a Road Culvert Signed – wouldn’t send one’s heart racing. I wouldn’t have bothered clicking on it at all only that the bridge in the small photograph had a familiar look about it. Sure enough, when enlarged it was no ordinary culvert bridge but Sir John Macneill’s magnificent ‘Egyptian Arch‘ which carries the Dublin/Belfast railway line near Newry.

Dating from 1851 the Egyptian Arch gained its name from its resemblance to the nemes headdress worn by Ancient Egyptian pharaohs. More recently, the bridge was selected for the design of the £1 coin to represent Northern Ireland for 2006. All four of the bridge design pound coins for each constituent part of the UK were designed by wood engraver Edwina Ellis in a Royal Mint design competition.

The painting, a watercolour drawing, is just (6″ x 4.5″) but worth every penny of the £30 it cost. The artist’s initials are present on the bottom right hand corner and, of course, the bridge is only a few miles from the artist’s home in Rostrevor.

Also not far from her home is the famous 50-ton granite boulder known as the “Cloughmore Stone“, an erratic left behind by a retreating glacier and a subject that she must have painted – I’ll keep searching…

My thanks to Steve Skerratt, Belfast, for his help with this acquisition.

Top: W. Lawrence photograph c.1880/1890 and Bottom: 1950’s view by Olive Swanzy.

Long lost (?) Maurice Wilks oil on eBay

Not for the first time, an original of one of Maurice Wilks’ paintings that was previously used on a Scholastic postcard has appeared for sale. This time on eBay, and at a rather tempting price of just US $2,450.00. In my opinion it did not reproduce well as a postcard, Scholastic # 817 “The Rugged Coast of Ireland”, printed by Stehli Bros., Switzerland. It was also used to produce a large print of the scene which still appears for sale from time to time. Interestingly, the back of this painting carries the stamp for Stehli Frères, Zurich as well as the original title for the work “White Rocks at Glenarm, Co.Antrim”.

Stehli Frères produced many lithograph copies of watercolours throughout the 1930’s and 40’s. Their lithos were usually printed on a heavy watercolour-like paper stock with rough edges to give the appearance of an actual watercolour painting and were done with very high lithographic quality at the time. Their postcards were printed in the same style on a heavy card – the rough edges always being a telltale sign of the printer.

Anyway, “White Rocks at Glenarm” is too rich for me but surely an opportunity for somebody to pick up a really nice painting for a pittance.

White Rocks at Glenarm, Co.Antrim” oil on panel (16″ x 20″) – Scholastic postcard insert for reference and is not on the painting!

Robert Barlow – Another missing NI artist!

Robert Barlow was active in the 1940’s and three postcards using his work published by the now defunct Scholastic Production Co., Belfast, are the only evidence that he was ever amongst us. Given that Scholastic used exclusively Northern Irish artists for their postcards it follows that Robert Barlow was from that part of the world and somebody, somewhere must know of him? An online search today just brings up my own postings and questions on various forums – a dead end. Judging from the above card and the other two listed on the Wildlife page he was quite an accomplished artist – anybody, please?

More ‘class’ burds

Spring is in the air and I have recently been lucky enough to add three further pictures to my growing collection of bird paintings. Two of these are by the elusive W Huston and I just couldn’t resist the Blue Tit (in the oval) by listed English artist – Richard Duffield – a snip at just £44.95 including delivery!

I don’t know where this is all going but I find that I still have a strong acquisitive streak – even in my dotage. Some of the bird paintings will hopefully appear in a long in gestation book, while others will be used in my various forays into postcard and Christmas card publishing. I have at last started to put some shape on my collection and have begun disposing of various impulse purchases which don’t really fit with my core interests.

Anyway, that’s enough self indulgence for one post – enjoy the new images.

Left to right: Blue Tits on a silver birch; and Chaffinches – both purchased for a song.
Superb study of a Blue Tit by British artist Richard Duffield.

“Salute to the Leader” more magic from David Briggs

Long, long ago when the railway workshops at Inchicore were at the cutting edge of engineering innovation a great British railway engineer – Oliver V Bulleid CBE – was appointed Chief Mechanical Engineer of CIE. A believer that steam traction still had a future in Ireland he oversaw experiments in using turf as a fuel for steam locomotives. These experiments culminated in 1957 with the appearance of the futuristic CCI “The Turburner”.  David Briggs takes up the story….

CCI – The Turfburner Trials

The setting for this painting is Inchicore on the mainline from Dublin to Cork. It has been the main workshops for the railways in the Republic of Ireland since it was constructed by the Great Southern & Western railway in the mid 1840’s. The castellated facade on the right hand side of the painting fronted vast workshops, the smaller building on the left hand side of the view was until recent times a signal cabin.

In the mid 1950s the then Irish state transport company was CIE. They had already begun a process of dieselisation indeed one of their early diesel locomotives can be seen in the background approaching on the shed road. It is a Metro Vic A class – A57, one of a class of 60 that would undertake the bulk of mainline duties for many years, and prove very successful once re-engined with General Motors power plants., however the main featured loco in the painting is what is of interest here.

As a result of a late 1940’s report (the Milne report ) into the state of Irish railways the chairman of CIE Thaddeus C Courtney ( in the painting with the camel coloured coat and bowler hat ) invited one of the committee who carried out the study, one OVS Bulleid to join CIE as Consulting Mechanical Engineer ( later Chief Mechanical Engineer – CME ). Oliver Bulleid resigned as CME of the southern region of British Rail and moved to Ireland. He was one of the last of the famous CME’s of the steam era and although some of his ideas were questioned at times by his peers he was undoubtedly an able engineer and designer.

Ireland had little suitable coal resources for steaming but did have abundant supplies of low calorific value fuel in the form of peat or turf as its more commonly known. Bulleid reckoned he could design and build a suitable locomotive that utilised this fuel and thus was born CC1 – The Turf Burner. As this is a narrative to give context to the painting I won’t go into the details of how it works but it makes interesting reading if you care to do your own research! Ultimately the project was not pursued just as with Bulleid’s other innovative project for BR ‘ The Leader’.

Our scene above then is CC1 passing Inchicore on a test train to Cork in October 1957 with a hotch potch of available carriages ( purely to provide a load for the loco ) . The loco would ultimately be fully painted in lined green but during the trials was as is usual painted in workshop grey. Bulleid ( black coat, red bow tie, and bowler hat ) is explaining to the ‘ brass’ at Inchicore some technical point or other as the train, driven by a skilled and enthusiastic Inchicore works driver Michael Keely, passes heading west.

Bulleid designed and built other excellent rolling stock during his time in Ireland, however he tends to be remembered on both sides of the Irish sea for his more ‘outside the box’ type thinking and perhaps not concentrating on maximising the company’s efficient operating and therefore profit. He was certainly a visionary but the steam age was coming to an end and so was his career, he retired in 1958 to Devon and then Malta where he died in 1970 aged 87. I think he was just born too late for his steam engineering dreams to be fulfilled.

Andy Pat and the Third Secret of Fatima

It is mine, I tell you. My own. My precious. Yes, my precious’.

That’s how I feel about the latest arrival into my collection. Although purchased from Ross’s Auction Rooms in Belfast as far back as last March, I only took delivery of the painting yesterday. I think it is a Mk.II. version of the barn painting as the first one to appear for sale in 2017 also featured a donkey and a cow. There was also more of a glow from the stove in the barn – probably more wood pellets available back then.

There’s something about Andy Pat’s paintings – a certain ‘Je ne sais quoi‘ but I don’t know what it is. They are simple, pretty and some have a slightly subversive (?) message – in the best possible taste – of course.

To date, almost 80 paintings by Andy Pat have passed through Ross’s salerooms, and while the majority feature Northern Irish landmarks the sheep have reached Donegal and most recently were seen busking by the Molly Malone statue on Grafton Street.

I’m still searching high and low for any crumb of information about the artist but it’s like the Third Secret of Fatima. The Auctioneers don’t know, or they have been sworn to secrecy, other artists that I have asked don’t know and there’s been no feedback on many different message boards that I have posted on. I have even taken to asking people straight out if they are Andy Pat – a little embarrassing but life is too short to beat about the bush when you’re on a quest.

So come on, somebody spill the beans – you know that I’ll keep it to myself!

Contact the confidential email address:

“Cork Departure” an iconic painting by David Briggs

My latest acquisition – this years’ Christmas present to myself – is this superb painting by Northern Irish Transport artist David Briggs. Painted a few years ago by the artist for his own collection it had only just come on the market and was a rare opportunity to acquire his work as these days he only undertakes commissions. It was in fact the painting that originally drew my attention to his work when I started this site but I never thought that one day I would be lucky enough to own it!

Titled “Cork Departure” it depicts Great Southern Railway of Ireland’s locomotive No.800 Maedb (Maeve) lifting the heavy 4.00pm mails for Dublin from Glanmire Road station (now Kent) in Cork in late August 1939 when the locomotive was only a few weeks into service. Prior to its introduction the mail trains – some of the heaviest trains in the country at the time, often of 450 tons – required two, and sometimes three, locomotives to get up the gradient out of Cork which is in places 1:60.

One of my favourite railway locations and definitely my favourite Irish locomotive this painting has everything; and the attention to detail is amazing, right down to little things like the bus just visible over the wall on the station forecourt.

Today the “Maedb” is preserved as a static exhibit at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum near Belfast, but that doesn’t stop the dreamers among us hoping to see her restored to steam at some future date and returning to her old stomping ground on the Dublin/Cork line.

David Briggs remains available for commissions but his order book is usually full and you may have to get in line. He can be contacted via his Facebook page here: The Transport Artwork of David Briggs

More “Jotter” Magic!

Walter Hayward Young aka “Jotter” (1868 – 1920) was a prolific English artist who produced many hundreds of seriously good pieces of art for British postcard publishers – Raphael Tuck & Sons; Arthur Burkart & Co., Frederick Hartmann; Boots; Ettlinger & Co., Woolstone Bros., and many others. Nobody has ever produced a catalogue of his work but it must well into four figures at a conservative estimate. As well as the landscape cards there were a large number of comic cards but it is the ones of hotels in Britain and Ireland published by Burkart & Co., London, that attract the biggest interest amongst collectors. The Irish Burkart cards are particularly hard to come by and after several years searching online sale platforms such as eBay/Delcampe and eBid, I finally struck gold recently. As is the nature with these things it’s either a feast or a famine and no less than eight of the rarest cards appeared on eBay at the same time earlier this month. As luck would have have it there were other interested parties but I settled on three cards and was successful – £58.50 but cheap at the price.

Two of the cards, The Rosslare Hotel (now Kelly’s) and the Great Southern Hotel, Waterville, I knew about but a card, hitherto unknown to me, was The Grand Hotel, Greystones (latterly the La Touche). As in many of his paintings his use of dark colours and clouds creates a very dramatic effect.

He was just 52 years of age when he died and although he visited Ireland it’s not known how much of his work was from photographs and how much from site visits. Either way, he has left a magnificent legacy of work for future generations to enjoy.

Norah McGuinness – the real thing?

This interesting untitled work attributed to Norah McGuinness sold for just £134.00 on eBay on the 5/9/2020. Despite being signed it was sold as attributed to the artist which always rings alarm bells but, that said, it looks like the real deal to me when compared with similar works by the artist. If it is genuine,  I suspect that it will soon turn up in an Irish saleroom with a very different price tag.

Time to call a spade a spade!

The Emperor’s New Clothes are very much in evidence in de Vere’s Sale of “Outstanding Irish Art & Sculpture” on the 23rd July.

Many of the Lots in the auction fall into the category of “WTF!” – utter tripe masquerading as art when in reality it’s all about money pure and simple. What bona fide art collector would have the money for or be seen dead with Lot.14. Sean Scully’s “Double Window” on their wall? Carrying an eye watering estimate of €600,000 – €900,000 it is worthless rubbish from any rational artistic point of view and in real terms worth no more than the price of the material that it is painted on – if that. Yet, we have a well known member of the Irish Art hierarchy, Dr.Frances Ruane RHA, eulogising the work in de Vere’s catalogue and giving it, supposedly, some sort of official nod of approval?

Lot.14. “Double Window” (1998) Oil on linen, 54″ x 48 1/8″. Est: €600,000/900,000.

“Scully is undoubtedly one of the most significant artists alive today, with an impact that reverberates worldwide. To think about him in terms of Minimalism is to miss the mark. While the Minimalists tried to strip away subjectivity and self-expression to concentrate on the neutral aesthetic demands of the picture surface, Scully’s work oozes his personality. His paintings urge the viewer to feel something…..”

“Double Window has the gutsy, muscular feel that is Scully’s hallmark. When you look at it, you can feel the streetwise physicality of the artist. The brushstrokes are full of raw energy, dragged powerfully across the surface. To call the characteristic stripes “lines” don’t do them justice – they are heroic “slabs” of colour that cry out with confidence and intensity.”  Dr.Francis Ruane RHA, from the catalogue blurb.

Lot.1. “Summer Bog” a child like work by the late Sean McSweeney is more modestly priced (€2,500/3,500) but at best resembles something a primary student might have attempted and been reprimanded for by their teacher. As for the dreadful works of Tony O’Malley and Barrie Cooke….less said the better.

Lot.21. “The Street Performer” Est: €180,000/240,000 is yet another daub by Jack B Yeats – an artist that could paint when he started out but lost his way before gradually losing his sight. His friends and colleagues obviously hadn’t the heart to advise him to give up painting.

Lot.69.”Evening on the Lagan” Watercolour and ink, 9 ¼” x 11 ¼”. Est.: €1,500/2,500.

The same could be said of the late Basil Blackshaw who was another artist that could paint horses and people after a kind but also went down the abstract route – Lot.69. “Evening on the Lagan“, while not completely abstract, is a fairly embarrassing example of his later work. Put it this way, I can’t paint but if I produced this mess it would have gone on the fire. Worthless except for its apparent provenance – inscribed but not (?) signed.

All in all there’s little for the genuine art lover in this sale save for a solitary Paul Henry and a fine watercolour by Maurice Canning Wilks. Apologies to anybody I’ve offended – you can put my increased narkiness down to the lock-down blues.