Ben Dunne selling art collection in exhibition expected to generate millions

Among the collection is John Lavery’s Sketch For Pro-Cathedral, Dublin 1922

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Former supermarket tycoon Ben Dunne and his wife Mary are selling part of their personal art collection in an exhibition which looks set to generate millions in sales. 

The Mary and Ben Dunne Collection, featuring 39 paintings, will be held at Gormleys in Dublin from September 8-22, before moving to Belfast for two weeks. 

“We are at a stage where we are downsizing and we haven’t got the space to display the full collection,” said businessman Dunne, 73, who runs a chain of six gyms in Dublin, Meath and Laois. 

“So we are happy to bring part of it to exhibition and sale.” 

The collection – set to break recent Irish gallery records for a single exhibition – includes works by Irish artists such as Jack B Yeats, John Lavery, Roderic O’Conor, Mary Swanzy and Walter Osborne, some valued at up to €1 million. 

Sir John Lavery, Sketch for ‘Pro-Cathedral, Dublin 1922’ (The Requiem Mass for Michael Collins), 1922, Oil on Canvas, 76×63.5 cm. The Mary and Ben Dunne Collection, featuring 39 paintings, will be held at Gormleys in Dublin from September 8-22 before moving to Belfast for two weeks.

Two works which experts believe will attract enormous interest from collectors were inspired by momentous events in 20th Century Ireland –  

the Bloody Sunday massacre in Croke Park in 1920 and the 1922 funeral of revolutionary hero Michael Collins. 

“A great collection is more than a group of pictures – it is a work of art in its own right, in which the works of art that form it, and the conversation between them, become more than the sum of their parts,” said art expert Mark Adams in his foreword to the catalogue. 

“In using their own brilliant eye for a painting and seeking out the advice of the late Alan Hobart, Ben and Mary Dunne have formed a collection which captures Ireland in all its infinite facets.” 

Jack Butler Yeats’ Singing The Dark Rosaleen (1921) will be offered for sale in the region of €1 million and depicts an impromptu performance of the patriotic poem My Dark Rosaleen by two middle-aged men and a fiddle player in the middle of the crowd at Croke Park. 

The painting is a moving response to the events at GAA headquarters a year earlier, when 13 spectators and Tipperary right full back and captain, Michael Hogan, were shot dead in the stadium by RIC Auxiliaries. 

In Sketch for Pro-Cathedral, Dublin 1922, Belfast-born Sir John Lavery captured the view he had of Michael Collins’ memorial service from his vantage point in the organ balcony at the Pro-Cathedral. 

His epic work – one of three featured in the Dunnes’ collection – is widely regarded as an authentic snapshot of the funeral and was painted during the service.  

A strong piece by Roscommon painter Roderic O’Conor is also expected to generate interest from potential buyers, while Dublin landscape artist Mary Swanzy has two paintings featured. 

Born in 1882, she was noted for her broad range of styles – and Houses on a Mountainous Landscape (c.1920) is indicative of her early interest in Modernism. 

In The Viaduct (c.1930), described by experts as a “light and airy Cubist” work, she adopts a low point of view to create a powerful relationship between the architecture in the painting and the viewer.  

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