Louis Le Brocquy H.R.H.A. (Irish, 1916-2012) The Blessing of the Lilies 19.4 x 31.4 cm. (7 5/8 x 12 3/8 in.)
Lot 59AR
Louis Le Brocquy H.R.H.A.
(Irish, 1916-2012)
The Blessing of the Lilies 19.4 x 31.4 cm. (7 5/8 x 12 3/8 in.)
£ 40,000 - 60,000
US$ 56,000 - 84,000

Lot Details
Louis Le Brocquy H.R.H.A. (Irish, 1916-2012)
The Blessing of the Lilies
signed 'LE BROCQUY' (lower right); further signed, inscribed and dated 'THE BLESSING OF THE LILLIES/Louis le Brocquy/DUBLIN 1945' (on the backboard)
watercolour and ink
19.4 x 31.4 cm. (7 5/8 x 12 3/8 in.)


  • Please note that this work is accompanied by an original letter from the artist to Lord Killanin (see transcript below).

    Purchased from the Leicester Galleries exhibition by Lord Killanin
    Thence by family descent to the present owner

    London, The Leicester Galleries, Winter Exhibition, February 1946
    Dublin, Taylor Galleries, March 1985 (as Study for Procession with Lilies, 1945, where lent by Lord Killanin)

    "I often wonder what became of [the] little girls, whose childhood have been frozen in this moment of time"

    (Louis le Brocquy)

    The present work is almost certainly the earliest exploration of Louis Le Brocquy's renowned Procession theme. And it is as a contemporaneous work that The Blessing of the Lilies can be viewed as the starting point for a motif which consumed the artist for a lifetime.

    Executed in 1945, it takes its inspiration from a newspaper photograph sent to Louis by a friend (Robin Dobyn, who compared it to a Botticelli) several years prior (see Fig.1). It shows a host of Dublin schoolgirls in white First Communion dresses coming down a street, laughing and carrying lilies. They are returning from church after the Feast of St Anthony. For a James Joyce aficionado such as Le Brocquy, the Evening Herald clipping was dated somewhat propitiously - 16 June 1939 – the publication date of Finnegan's Wake, Bloomsday. The poignancy of this was to strike him later as he considered the carefree happiness and youthful joy of the children so soon before the outbreak of war.

    The otherworldly figures are ethereal and dreamlike in their white gowns and veils. The background signage for Bovril and Noonan's Cafe however, reminds the viewer of the drawings origins, founded on a very real, albeit fleeting, moment rather than some imagined scene. The artist was interested in the girl's simultaneous individuality and togetherness, like a flock excitedly rushing around the corner. Their expressions and forms different, yet the overall impression being of a 'whole' moving in harmony. This evocative vision continued to simmer in Le Brocquy's mind as over twenty years later in 1962 he re-visited the subject in oils, painting Procession with Lilies and again in the 1980s and 90s a whole series of critically acclaimed Processions were completed (an example of which sold at auction last year for €320,000). At the time of the 1985 Taylor Galleries exhibition, he remarked "And here I am today, still painting these then schoolgirls, these temporarily white beings momentarily related in their procession within space and time".

    The appeal of this important work on paper is further enhanced by the distinguished provenance and fact it has remained in the same family almost since the sheet was still wet with ink. Lord (Michael Morris) Killanin (1914-1999) was an extraordinary man, remembered for his diverse contribution to journalism, the military, film-making and The Olympics, amongst other endeavours. Born in London to an Irish father and Australian mother, he was educated at Eton and the Sorbonne before embarking on a Fleet Street career in the 1930s, writing for Daily Express, Daily Sketch and Daily Mail.

    The year The Blessing of the Lilies was executed, he married Sheila Dunlop. She was a formidable match having herself been awarded an MBE for her code-breaking work at Bletchley and given her grandfather had built the esteemed Lansdowne Rugby Club in Dublin. After many years of senior involvement in the Games, Killanin was appointed President of The International Olympic Committee in 1972. He steered the international event through difficult financial times and was responsible for bringing China in and keeping South Africa out until apartheid was no longer. Later in life, he went on to collaborate on hit films such as The Quiet Man and Playboy of The Western World. Hugely popular in his home country of Ireland; Killanin even declined the country's presidency, at a time when the position was an appointment.

    He and Le Brocquy knew one another and in a personal letter dated 5 May 1985 (family source) the artist recalls the present work and acknowledges the early support afforded him by Killanin:

    Dear Michael

    Again let me tell you how very grateful I am for your kindness in lending that early work to the Taylors.

    As I think I mentioned I found an entry on it among my uncertain pencilled records. Strange to see it again this totally forgotten study of these transient white beings made long before my hair came to match their dresses!

    I am moved that you should have been among the very first few who wished to keep my work.

    With best wishes to Sheila and yourself,

    Yours ever
Auction information

The 29 May sale was the departments most successful auction to date making almost £5m.

Furthermore, it was 90% sold by value with some staggering results achieved for fresh, competitively priced material sourced from private collections. Over half of sold lots soared above their high estimates, indicating that Bonhams is best positioned to secure the best price for your Modern British & Irish Art.

The variety on offer within this genre continues to delight buyers, proven by exceptional results for post-war masters such as Auerbach, Scully, Hockney and Freud whilst the early-mid century examples by Spencer, Lavery, Burra and Moore also exceeded expectation. We were proud to break our own world auction record twice over in the same sale for a pencil drawing by L.S. Lowry. Agecroft Regatta sold for £211,250, pipping The Organ Grinder (£151,250) to the title. The sculpture and Irish content were similarly contended for by the packed saleroom and busy telephones.

The cover lot Garden Path, Cookham Rise by Sir Stanley Spencer fetched an impressive £769,250 while the much admired Oil-bound Puffin by Lucian Freud commanded £385,250 on the day, with both returning to private collections.

We are delighted to now invite consignments for the forthcoming auction on 20 November 2013.

Please contact a member of the department or visit the sale webpage for further information.

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