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Paul Henry 1876 - 1958  

Photograph of a painting by the Irish artist, Paul Henry.

Head of an Old Man
Oil on board, 6 x 4 3/4 inches. Signed by the artist.
R. M. Henry(?);
Michael J. Bowman;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, August 1997;
Private collection, Dublin
Lit: S. B. Kennedy, Yale University Press, 2007, no.327

Dr. Brian Kennedy suggests that this may be Patsy, exhibited in Belfast in 1911. He also draws our attention to the difficulty Henry had in making studies of local people during his early years on Achill Island. He quotes Henry's own words from 'An Irish Portrait': "The old people had their own beauty, the beauty of character. There were old men and old women whom I longed to paint. I had to be very diplomatic, both on account of their supersensitive shyness and their superstitious dread of the possible consequences. I had to be cautious and patient and the few finished drawings I made were done with great difficulty." According to Dr. Kennedy: "Paul Henry was born in Belfast. After a period spent at the Belfast College of Art he went to Paris where he studied at the Académie Julian and at Whistler's Académie Carmen. He was influenced at first by Millet and the Barbizon painters, but later came under the spell of Whistler, from whom he learned to modulate the delicate tones which are so characteristic of his later pictures. For the first decade of the twentieth century he lived and worked as an illustrator in London, but in 1910 visited Achill Island and the West of Ireland for the first time and, almost on the spot, decided to live there. Achill was to be his home until 1919, when he settled in Dublin, but the landscape of the West was to dominate his subject matter for the rest of his career."

Photograph of a painting by the Irish artist, Paul Henry.

Grace O'Malley's Castle
Oil on board, 9 1/2 x 12 inches. Signed by the artist.
Provenance: Bought at auction, late 1940s;
By descent through a Dublin family;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dublin, 1992;
Private collection, Ireland
Exhibited: Pictures of the West of Ireland, Belfast, 1916?;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, Dublin, 1992, number 15;
Paul Henry: An Irish Portrait, Ulster Museum, Belfast,1997;
Paul Henry, National Gallery of Ireland, February 2003, no. 41
Lit: S. B. Kennedy, Yale University Press, 2007, no.403

The following entry was written by Brian Kennedy for the National Gallery of Ireland exhibition catalogue: "Grace O'Malley's Castle, which is also known as Kildownet Castle, is situated on Achill Island some five miles south of Achill Sound. It is one of a number of castles in the vicinity of Achill and Clare Island that was associated Grainne Ni Mhaille (c.1530-1600) whose freebooting exploits on land and sea have passed, with much romantic exaggeration, into legend. Henry and his wife, Grace, lived in the coastguard station at Cloghmore, close to Grace O'Malley's Castle, for much of 1914 and probably into1915 and it seems likely that this picture was done at this time. Also, he included a picture of the castle in his joint exhibition, Pictures of the West of Ireland, held with Grace at the Underwood Typewriter House, Belfast, during March and April 1916 and that show comprised mainly recent works. The catalogue of works shown on that occasion has not survived. The smallness of the present composition, the spirited brushwork and heavy impasto combine to produce a work of great bravura. That it belonged to a private collector before being sold at auction in the 1940s would explain why it has not been seen in later exhibitions of Henry's work." 

Killary Harbour, photograph of a painting by Paul Henry.

Killary Harbour
Oil on board, 13 x 16 1/2 inches. Signed by the artist
Provenance: Christies, Belfast, Oct 1989, lot 314;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, 2003;
Private collection, Dublin
Lit: S.B. Kennedy, Yale University Press, 2007, no.502

The success of this striking portrayal of the rugged beauty of the West of Ireland is due largely to its simplicity of design and limited colour range. Great advantage is taken of the dramatic contrasts, successfully employed to attract and hold the viewers attention. Henry mastered the light of the West as no other artist managed before or since and this facet of his work is displayed here to great effect. The foreboding cloud formations, which rolled relentlessly in from the Atlantic, bore a fascination for the artist, and here he displays his skill in capturing this spectacle here at great speed before they were swept from sight. Dr. Brian Kennedy has dated the painting to the years between 1918 and 1919. He suggests that the work was painted in the open air, a factor that adds to the natural, yet almost surreal, quality of the painting. Henry was not at all concerned about the finesse of the board that he used as a support. The rough grain shows through the paint and adds to the natural earthiness of the composition. By this time, the artist had fully developed his unique style and it is very much in evidence here. There is a strong possibility that the scene may have been painted in the vicinity of Aasleagh, near Leenane in Connemara.

Photograph of a Connemara painting by Paul Henry.

In Connemara
Oil on board, 17 x 21 inches. Signed by the artist
Provenance: Thomas J. Walsh, New York, 1929;
Mrs. G.P. Buck, Bantford, Ontario;
by descent to Mrs. Land, Hamilton, Ontario,
DeVeres, Dublin, 1996;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art;
Private collection, Dublin
Exhibited: Pictures by Paul and Grace Henry, Magees, Belfast,1921;
Paul and Grace Henry, Magees, Belfast,1923;
Hackett Gallery, New York, 1929;
Paintings of Ireland, Horne's Gallery, Boston, 1930;
Paul Henry: An Irish Portrait, Ulster Museum, Belfast,1997;
Paul Henry, National Gallery of Ireland, February 2003, no.65
Lit: S. B. Kennedy, Yale University Press, 2007, no.637

In Connemara
was first exhibited in Belfast in 1921, shortly after it was painted. Dr. Kennedy draws our attention to some early press commentary. Reviewing the 1925 Dublin exhibition, the Irish Times observed: "the sunlight shows the black turf stacks against the wonderfully blue hill with extraordinary effect". The New York Times in 1930 reported: "in gentle fashion, his landscapes (of which In Connemara is a good example) fulfil some of the promises made by Irish literature. They are both lonely and self-contained." Soon after this, the painting became very well known when it was widely distributed as a colour print by Combridge's, Dublin.

Bog at Evening: photograph of a painting by the Irish artist, Paul Henry.

The Bog at Evening

Oil on canvas, 30 x 36 inches. Signed by the artist
Provenance: Combridge Fine Art Galleries, Dublin;
Henry Lee Shattuck, U.S.A.;
Skinner, Boston, Nov.10, 2000, lot 187;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art;
Private collection, Dublin
Exhibited: Paul Henry, National Gallery of Ireland, February 2003, cat no. 71 
Lit: S. B. Kennedy, Yale University Press, 2007, no.591

Dr. Kennedy writes: “Reviewing Henry’s 1923 exhibition in the Northern Whig on the 12th April, the commentator describes The Bog at Evening in a manner that almost exactly describes this picture: ‘the black peat-stacks stand out against the dim brown of the bog, and the curves of their shapes are repeated and magnified in the curves of the mountains, and of the clouds that tower above them. The repetition of these curves gives a sense of rhythm to the design, and the fine purple of the mountains is enriched by the contrast with the blacks and browns of the foreground.’

Despite the label from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, bearing the title Evening on an Achill Bog, it seems almost certain that this is indeed The Bog at Evening which Henry first exhibited in 1923. Henry Lee Shattuck probably acquired the picture from one of Henry’s North American exhibitions, although it cannot be identified from any of the catalogues."

"The Bog at Evening shows Henry at the height of his powers, his attention now focused firmly on the landscape and in a manner that was to typify his oeuvre hereafter. The setting is most probably Connemara, and may be Achill Island, but one cannot say where. The size of the composition and the degree of impasto in the heavily modelled paint are unusual for Henry and illustrate his confidence and vigour in his early Dublin years. The handling of colour is particularly subtle, the pinks and warm creams in the cloud formations contrasting with the cooler cobalt blues elsewhere in the sky, while the juxtaposition of the purple mountains and the yellow cornfield in the middle distance is distinctly Post-Impressionist in concept and recalls Henry's time in Paris. The foreground, too, despite the predominance of the olives, browns and blacks of the soft earth, is a myriad of pinks and other hues and the reflections in the foreground pool lead the eye back into the composition and ultimately to the glory of the sky."

Photograph of a Connemara painting by Paul Henry.

Connemara Hills
Oil on panel, 10 x 12 inches. Signed by the artist
Provenance: Private collection, Dublin;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, 1985;
Paul Henry: An Irish Portrait, Ulster Museum, Belfast,1997;
Paul Henry, National Gallery of Ireland, February 2003, no. 77
Lit: S. B. Kennedy, Yale University Press, 2007, no.621

To borrow again from Dr. Kennedy's catalogue: "Despite its size, this small panel captures with awe the sense of spatial enclosure of the high mountain range which provides the setting. It dates from a period when Henry, now based in Dublin, paid few visits to the West of Ireland and it would thus have been made from sketches done earlier. The strength of the image, the barely roughed in cottages perched on a small foreground promontory contrasting dramatically with the deep blue mass of the mountains which dominate the greater portion of the picture plane, shows the lasting influence of Post-Impressionism on Henry's compositional technique.

Blue Mountains, photograph of a painting by Paul Henry.

Blue Mountains
Oil on board, 8 x 11 inches. Signed by the artist
Provenance: James A. Healy;
Mrs. William H. Hill, USA;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, May, 1996;
Private collection, Ireland
Exhibited: Contemporary Irish Art, Hackett Gallery, New York, March 1929, no.21;
Paintings of Ireland, Grace Horne's Gallery, Boston, no.20;
Lit: S. B. Kennedy, Yale University Press, 2007, no.573

This invigorating canvas is one a number of studies that capture the magnificent scenery of the Connemara wilderness. The drama of the landscape must have been an irresistible challenge to the artist. It is reasonable to suggest that it was subject matter such as this that drew Paul Henry to the West in the first place. This painting has been catalogued in the past as Killary Harbour, and probably shows a view of one of the bends in this magnificent natural fjord as it runs inland from the Atlantic.

Photograph of a Connemara painting by the Irish artist, Paul Henry.

Storm on a Connemara Lake
Oil on canvas, 15 x 18 inches. Signed by the artist
Provenance: Christie’s, Hamilton & Hamilton Sale, Glenaulin, Chapelizod, Co. Dublin, April 1985, lot 175;
Christies, Dublin, June 1994, lot 234;
Adam’s Bonhams, Dublin, May 2005;
Exhibited: Fine Art Society, London, ‘In Connemara, Paintings by Paul Henry RHA’. April 1934, number 12 as Storm over the Lake;
Eaton Galleries, Toronto, ‘Recent Paintings by Paul Henry, number 8 as
Storm over a Connemara Lake
Lit: S. B. Kennedy, Yale University Press, 2007, no.706

This painting is almost certainly a view into the Benns across one of the many small lakes that litter Connemara. Painted circa 1930, it shows Paul Henry at his best, especially in the remarkable colour harmony and wonderful creamy texture of paint. Stormy weather was a feature of many of his paintings. In this example he demonstrates his skill in depicting the frenzied white water whipped up by the squall as it hurtles down from the hillsides. With broad, straight sweeps of a wide brush, he depicts the ferocity of the rainstorm as it drives into the hilltops. The drama of the sky and water is heightened by the lightness of the foreground grasses.

The painting has a further history. Henry used a canvas on which he had previously painted a Wicklow mountain landscape. The ghost of the painting is discernible beneath the current work. The title was probably Enniscree Mountain, Co. Wicklow. This inscription is partially legible beneath the inscription for the current work. It was priced at £10. The label from the Toronto exhibition survives on the stretcher bar.

Photograph of a Connemara painting by the Irish artist, Paul Henry.

Cloudy Day, Connemara
Oil on canvas board, 14 x 18 inches. Signed by the artist
Provenance: Hamilton Osborne King, Dublin, May 1999;
Oliver Nulty;
Milmo-Penny Fine Art;
Private collection, Ireland

Lit: S. B. Kennedy, Yale University Press, 2007, no.975

There is at least one other painting with an identical title to this work, painted about the same time. However, Brian Kennedy suggests that this might be a view of the McGillycuddy Reeks in County Kerry.  By the mid-1930s, Henry's palette had become much lighter but his work was just as strong. His landscapes remained devoid of people and turf stacks appeared more and more. To some extent, Henry used these stacks to balance his compositions where another artist might have included a group of figures. This was a further consolidation of his style which was by now fully mature. He had become the father of Irish landscape painting. Easel painting had become second nature to him. His work had long possessed an effortless quality. He had become a master. Dr. Kennedy describes him as the doyen of Irish landscape painters of the twentieth century who defined a view of the West which endures, and he is the chief of those other landscapists - James Humbert Craig, Frank McKelvey and Charles Lamb are the best known - who in the inter-war years brought for the first time a high degree of Naturalism to paintings of the Irish scene.

Connemara: Photograph of a painting by the Irish artist, Paul Henry.

Windswept Trees, Connemara
Oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches. Signed by the artist
Milmo-Penny Fine Art, May 2005;
Private collection, Dublin
Lit: S. B. Kennedy, Yale University Press, 2007, no.1017

This painting compares in a number of ways to one of Paul Henry’s best known works, A Sunny Day, Connemara, which was reproduced on the dust jacket of his book, ‘An Irish Portrait’. It may be a view of the same coastline, painted from a different position. The format of the composition, mountain range, colouring and handling of the cloud are all very similar.

Windswept and weather beaten trees, bent to a permanent stoop by the prevailing south-westerly gales, are a feature of many of Henry’s paintings, appearing as early as 1917 in The Fairy Thorn. Their twisted trunks and branches are found all along the west coast, often growing miraculously from the crevices of a stone wall, with no apparent nourishment. Open to the destructive forces of the wild Atlantic, it was the protection offered by the stone walls that allowed the saplings to survive in the first place.

Painted in the early 1940s, Windswept Trees clearly demonstrates how strong a painter Paul Henry was as he approached the final stages of his career. All suggestion of the dark foreboding of his earlier work has disappeared. With a lifetime’s experience behind him, he depicts the clouds with great ease as they drift over the hills and fill with moisture, their bright patchwork of light reflected off the shimmering water. The stone wall in the foreground mirrors the distant range of hills. It climbs down to join the others that criss-cross the fields as they fall towards the ocean. In the foreground, a narrow strip of rough land, strewn with boulders, gives a warm glow to the painting while simultaneously reminding the viewer of the harshness of this terrain.

We are indebted to Dr. S. B. Kennedy for much of the information contained in this page. In addition to the catalogue referred to above, during his time at the Ulster Museum, he also wrote a concise biography of the artist published in 2000 by Yale University Press. The reference numbers above are taken from their 2007 catalogue of paintings and drawings: ISBN 0-300-1171204.

NOTE: Because of the value involved, there are a great number of fake 'Henry' paintings in circulation. Fake provenances are also invented for genuine works to enhance their value, which constitutes fraud. For details of one such operation, please go to our Blog page.

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