Irish-American lawyer and entrepreneur Brian Burns is auctioning his Irish art collection at Sotheby’s of London this fall.
Burns, an inductee into the Irish-American Hall of Fame, was nominated by President Trump to be the US Ambassador to Ireland in 2017 but had to withdraw his candidacy because of health reasons, The Irish Times reports.
He is the founder of the John J Burns Library at Boston College, renowned for documenting Irish literature, history, music and culture as well as the Irish of Boston. In 1986, he played an important part in merging the American-Irish Foundation with the Ireland Fund to create the American-Ireland Fund.
Around 100 works of art will be sold from his collection, which pays tribute to his Irish heritage with Irish artists from the 18th century to present day. His paintings include works by Jack B Yeats, Roderic O’ Conor, Sir John Lavery, Sir William Orpen, Walter Osborne, William Leech and Nathaniel Hone.
In the beginning, his collection focused on the struggles of the poor in 19th century Ireland.
“I wasn’t afraid of it. It was part of my family story,” he said. “I’ve always been aware that we were one generation away from an $18-a-week, crippled Boston motorman. I have a lot of lest-we-forget pictures.”
His collection later evolved to take on “a more modern, outward-looking perspective” and was “influential in prompting a reconsideration of what constituted Irish art,” The Irish Times reports.
The most expensive work to be auctioned is Roderic O’Conor’s Romeo and Juliet, which is estimated at €340,000-€570,000. Also to be sold is Sir John Lavery’s Armistice Day, November 11th, 1918, Grosvenor Place, London (€230,000-€340,000) and Jack B Yeats, A Misty Morning, 1942, (€135,000-€200,000).
The November 21st auction in London is estimated to bring a total of €3 million and €5 million for the collection.
“Some have asked,” said Burns, “why Eileen (his wife) and I have chosen this time to return a large group of paintings from our Irish art collection to the market. Many years ago, when I started collecting, I was advised by Desmond Fitzgerald, the 29th Knight of Glin, Desmond Guinness, and other art advisers in Ireland to remember that no matter how many paintings I might acquire, I was only a custodian of them during my lifetime. Now at 80-plus years old, and with a collection of more than 200 works, it seemed an appropriate time.”
A preview exhibition of the art will be shown in Boston on June 19th and 20th, and will be shown at the RHA Gallery in Dublin on August 30th-September 1st. The auction will be held November 21st at Sotheby's of London.