Flora Hippisley Mitchell (1890-1973) was an unlikely chronicler of the Dublin cityscape. She was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the same week nearly 300 Sioux were massacred by American soldiers near Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota.
His father was general manager of the Anglo-American Cattle Co, and the family’s hasty departure from Nebraska in the early 1890s is generally described as “a consequence of the Sioux uprising.”
The Mitchells came to Ireland where Flora’s uncle Alfred worked at the Jameson distillery in Drogheda. Flora has become an artist. In 1930, she married William George Jameson (great-grandson of the famous distiller) who was 40 years her senior. They spent nearly 10 years living the high life, sailing and fraternizing with British royalty, until William’s death in 1939.
Flora then disappeared from the radar until her re-emergence as an artist in 1955 at the age of 65. She quickly became known for her precise and atmospheric scenes of Dublin, in pen and watercolor, which she painted in the back of her car. A reviewer at the time wrote, “As works of art, Flora Mitchell’s drawings are good enough to hang in any business, and, as souvenirs, they are cheap enough to have a considerable sale.
Flora Mitchell’s paintings are still popular, but are no longer cheap. His prices soared in the heady days of 2007 when his painting of Front Square, Trinity College, Dublin, fetched €7,200 at Whyte’s. In the same sale, a painting of Dawson Street by Stephen’s Green sold for €6,000. A few lean years followed, after which his prices started to rise again. This month of March, his watercolour, Grand Canal at Baggot Street Bridge, Dublin (est. €1,500 to €2,000) sold for €4,600 at Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers.
Mitchell’s Book Awards, endangered dublin, remained more stable. It was published by Allen Figgis in 1966 with 50 plates of his watercolors, accompanied by descriptions of the streets and alleys of Dublin. The book was published in a limited edition of 600 copies and the plates destroyed after printing, which made it a valuable collector’s item. Now, copies can sell for as little as €250, depending on the condition. In August 2020, a copy of endangered dublin (est. €250 to €350) was recovered €600 at Adam’s. The book contained a receipt from Mealy Auctioneers, dated October 5, 1983, at the sale of which the book cost £200 plus 10% commission, showing that the book has held its value for nearly 40 years.
endangered dublin portrays a city on the verge of change. As Maurice Earls wrote in the Dublin Book Review (2020): “The attraction is the watercolors in which Mitchell somehow captures the sadness of a beautiful, run-down city about to be transformed with the arrival of money and the wrecking ball.” His own York Street account describes “the substantial homes of well-to-do citizens of old resisting the invasion of families whose fight against poverty is bravely hidden behind curtains of lace…If we could look behind the skylights often without glass of the beautiful and varied doors, our sympathy would indeed be for those who have suffered much hardship and overcrowding here in the last century. And every day, the din of demolitions gets closer.
Kathryn Milligan, author of Dublin painting, 1886–1949writes that the original watercolors of endangered dublin were purchased by the National Gallery of Ireland in 1969 for the then considerable price of £1,000. When Milligan came to write her book, she discovered that she could not reproduce the designs due to a complex copyright issue.
“Flora had no children and her estate was left to her sister and brother-in-law, Eleanor and Robert Jameson,” says Milligan. “They too died without issue and their estate was divided between their nieces and nephews.” Not all of them could be found. Until 2043, when Flora Mitchell’s work goes out of copyright, it can only be reproduced in limited contexts. One of them is when his work goes through an auction house. Milligan got around the problem by describing, rather than showing, the illustrations in his book.
Painting Dublin, 1886-1949: Visualizing a Changing City by Kathryn Milligan (2021 paperback edition) is widely available. See also fonsiemealy.ie.
In sales rooms
Chinese art has a reputation for offering surprise stories at auction and the highly publicized Asian Art Sale, which took place at Adam’s on June 28-29, was no exception. On the first day of the sale, a small cracked cup (Lot 156a: est. €1,000 to €2,000) went for €33,000. It was a charming and delicate object, decorated with a mandarin duck swimming in a lotus pond with a flying kingfisher overhead, and inscribed below with an “apocryphal” Kangxi mark which dated it to between 1654 and 1722.
An “apocryphal” mark is not the same as a fake. Kate Hunt, specialist in Chinese ceramics and works of art at Christies, writes that: “Chinese craftsmen copied the reign marks of earlier dynasties out of respect and reverence for those earlier periods”. Confusing, but not necessarily intended to mislead. The auction star was much more predictable. A six-panel lacquered wood screen depicting a Mekong river landscape with a village by Vietnamese artist Lê Quôc Lôc (lot 318: est. €200,000 to €400,000) sold for €360,000. See adams.fr.
The death of antiquarian Vanessa Parker closes a chapter in the history of rare and antiquarian books in Ireland. Originally from England, Parker was a rare book specialist with interests ranging from out of print books to rare and fine bindings, illustrated books and old children’s books. She first came to Ireland in the 1980s and moved to Co Mayo with her partner Roger Grimes, also an antique dealer, in 1990. Both became members of the Irish Antiques Dealers Association and their shop, Greenway Antiques and Bookshop at The Old Thatch, Mulranny. , Co Mayo, has long been a regular stopover for antique lovers and casual passers-by on the road between Westport and Achill. Parker and Grimes exhibited regularly with Hibernian Antique Fairs.
Daniel O’Neill’s painting Head fetched €19,000 at Morgan O’Driscoll’s major Irish art online auction, which closed on June 20. Art historian Peter Murray wrote: The image of a young woman is one of O’Neill’s simplest yet most intense portraits. See morganodriscoll.com.