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A Sinking Feeling at an Art Auction

Updated on October 20, 2014

A Titanic Love of Art!

As an enthusiastic admirer of watercolor paintings and especially by a particular well known landscape artist, I couldn't resist the opportunity of heading off to an art auction which was offering several of his works for sale.

What I didn't know then was that the location of this auction would have a profound effect on our days bidding. This might seem odd from the outside, but when you are in the midst of over a thousand registered bidders, you are bound to experience that sinking feeling at least once as you attempt to get that winning bid on something you desire!

Where was this place I hear you ask? I'll get to that in a minute, I'll give you a clue - we are somewhere in Ireland!

Those of you with experience of auctions know the feeling you get when you're the highest bidder at a particular moment and the auctioneer is desperately trying to find someone to out bid your offer. It's one of trepidation and butterflies in your stomach - you really want the item and need the hammer to fall asap, but the auctioneer won't do it. He's desperate for more money to increase his commission - and wouldn't we all be like that, I suppose?

With this huge number of potential buyers here, what chance do I have? Is there a strategy when bidding at auctions? Yes, I think one develops a bidding technique, at least I did - or tried to - but did it work?

Read on and see what happened and where this place is...

Image: Three of the paintings I bought

Created on 3 Jul 2013

All photos © Rob Hemphill

An Unfolding Weekend

The tale of our weekend at an art auction begins on a viewing afternoon the day before the sale.

Having received a catalog in the post from the art auctioneer a few weeks earlier, I noticed that there were several pieces of art on offer by an Irish watercolor artist whose work I've grown to love. The works I was interested in were all of beautiful landscapes in the west of Ireland, areas I know very well and have had a close family attachment to for many years.

We decided to go to the auction, booked a local guesthouse for the night and set off to the location to view the lots before the big day. Little did we realize that thousands of other people had the same idea, but their reason for turning up, as we were soon to discover, was not to view the art - why not, we thought, after all it was an art auction!

They were here to view the house.

Costelloe Lodge For Sale and an art auction!

costelloe lodge connemara
costelloe lodge connemara

Costelloe Lodge, Casla, Co. Galway, Ireland

Photo: © 2013 Rob Hemphill

Now I get it!

We have arrived at a house that used to belong to someone famous.

The house is up for sale in a day or two, but the contents are being auctioned alongside an art auction.

We've come for the art, others for the contents, but most are here just to see the house (and contents) where Bruce Ismay lived.

costelloe lodge connemara
costelloe lodge connemara

What's Special About The House?

It had a high profile previous owner!

We are now in a remote village just a stones throw from the sea - on Galway Bay to be precise, a dozen miles from the city of Galway. It was clear we were near the right place as cars were parked down both sides of the road for a mile or more. We couldn't believe that there were so many art lovers around!

Wandering down the avenue clutching our catalog we wonder at the people numbers walking to and fro. Arriving at the house, and still none the wiser, we ask why there are so many more people than there would usually be. We're told that everyone has come to see the house that used to belong to the once chairman and managing director of the White Star Line, Mr Bruce Ismay. So now we know why all the fuss, yes, that's the same Ismay of the Titanic fame!

Joseph Bruce Ismay attracted the world's attention following the Titanic disaster as he was the highest ranking official of the White Star Line amongst the 712 survivors, (there were 2,208 fatalities from both the crew and passengers). The British and American press gave him such a hard time for deserting the sinking ship while there were still women and children on board.

It has always been presumed that he selfishly saved himself ahead of women and children. But there is another opinion rife that he was ordered to get into the lifeboat by fellow officers on the sinking ship. The reasoning behind this is that as the only high ranking officer connected with the ship's owners, the White Star Line, and so he would be the one who had to answer all questions in relation to the tragedy. His life would be miserable from then on, and it was.

In order to get as far away from the world as possible, he disappeared from society and found sanctuary in the west of Ireland at Costelloe Lodge, Casla in Connemara, County Galway.

J. Bruce Ismay

J Bruce Ismay: doomed the moment he jumped ship

White Star chairman J Bruce Ismay finds peace in the west

Other Side of the Night

The Other Side of the Night: The Carpathia, the Californian and the Night the Titanic was Lost
The Other Side of the Night: The Carpathia, the Californian and the Night the Titanic was Lost

After the Titanic sank this book tells of the unfolding story of what happened on the decks of two steamships, the Carpathia and Californian who picked up the distress signals of the sinking ship. Their actions and reactions are legendary as one chose to answer the call irrespective of any danger, while the other decided the risk was too great.

At any tragedy, there is always someone trying to cover up the truth, and this disaster was no exception.

Great investigative stuff - well worth a read!


Interesting Books about the Titanic - And stories of survival

Titanic's Bruce Ismay: From Disaster to Irish Refuge

Titanic Memorabilia

model of Titanic
model of Titanic

I had almost forgotten the reason of coming to Costelloe Lodge as we wandered from room to room spotting various items relating to the White Star Line and the building of the great ship.

We saw numerous prints of the Titanic as well as this model in a glass case, which must have been about 4 feet long. This was the item that virtually everyone stopped to have a good look at.

We couldn't believe that we were in the very house that this important man who had not only been involved in the disaster, but was one of they key people responsible.

White Star Logo - Image credit: Wikipedia

Time For Some Art Viewing

At this auction all the art had been hung around the house for viewing but was in no particular order, i.e. multiple works by any single artist were scattered through different rooms. As the art was hung and mixed in with the house contents, it seemed sensible to treat the art viewing as a full house and contents viewing also.

Armed with our catalogs, we spent many hours referencing items and watching others do the same, perusing from room to room and soaking up the atmosphere. One thing on my mind was a hope that there wouldn't be too many people interested in what I was here for - the usual feeling for anyone in the same situation I expect!

Having seen all the art in close detail, it was time to return to our guest house and prepare for the 'big day' tomorrow.

A small selection of the art on sale at this auction. There was something for virtually every taste, from classic to contemporary and wacky to serious.

Collage of images from photos by Rob Hemphill

*** Art Auction Day ***

Wander around the garden

Having arrived at the venue in good time and registered to bid, we went for a walk around the grounds of this unusual property. I say unusual because the house is built adjacent to the mouth of the Casla river, was designed by Sir Edwin Lutjens (one of the greatest British architects) and the gardens laid out by Gertrude Jekyll (an equally famous garden designer and horticulturalist). The pair formed a professional partnership together in 1896, and many country houses in the future would receive the Lutjens/Jekyll design treatment.

There were numerous statues, sculptures, bronzes and other works dotted throughout the garden, one of these was this Bird in Flight contemporary sculpture by Cliodhna Cussen which had an inscription on it which read:

"In memory of Bruce Ismay who loved all the wild places"

Art Auction

Blouin Art+Auction
Blouin Art+Auction

Delve into the sophisticated art world with this thought provoking book. Find out about the people behind the deals, the big names in art, the auction houses and leading galleries from around the world.

This is a real eye opener when it comes to art and auctions, so if you're any sort of collector or just an enthusiastic off-chance buyer have a look at this - you might pick up some tips and advice.


Butterflies and Sinking Feelings

Auction time

There is a nervousness as we all realize that competition is rife so chances could be small. Anyhow, off we go!

The first lots are items like vintage cars, machinery and garden stuff. The bids get higher and higher, the chances lower and lower. It's clear that most things are fetching way above their estimates - this is not good news, but expected.

We progress through the lots until the time comes for my first opportunity to bid for a 20" x 28" framed watercolor painting by a renowned artist, Robert Egginton. The auctioneer starts high, there are no bids, so he comes down until he gets his first offer. Do I come in now or wait a bit? There's no time to think as it all happens very quickly. I realize that I must appear as a confident buyer, so I chip in with my first bid, there are a few others in quick succession. I come in again, the price is rising too fast, but I feel if I'm to succeed I must be fast and furious with the bidding process. They bid, I'm in straight away to put the pressure back on them - it's working, but the auctioneer is slow in getting the hammer down...

BANG, I've got it! That's #1, Whoa!

Photo of this painting by Rob Hemphill

Been a Bidder at an Art Auction?

Have you ever been a bidder at an art auction?

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The Going Gets Tough...

After my first successful bid it's not long before a couple of smaller watercolors (9 in x 12 in) come up. I really like these, especially as one of them is of a place on the west coast of Connemara I know so well.

Bidding hots up for the next Egginton, but I feel that if I don't get this one I certainly won't be able to get the second one. So, once again I try to use the immediate bidding tactic, and am surprised that the competition falls away soon - this is great, I feel I've stamped an authority on this artists work.

The next one is up and I'm on a roll, I've just got the first of this pair and don't want to loose the second. Again, there are several other bidders and more interest, but surprisingly, in time they all soon fall away - this is turning out to be an amazing day!

I have #2 and #3!


Long Wait Before Next Batch

Counting down... or counting up!

The next hour of the auction was taken up with ornaments and furniture from the house, time for a bit of reflection.

There are two more Robert Egginton paintings left, and I definitely want one of them. The problem is they are consecutive lot numbers, and it's the second lot that I'm very interested in.

Do I bail out of the first and signal to all bidders that I'm done?


Do I attempt to go for it so I can continue my momentum?

I decide to do the latter.

I bid several times for both lots, and couldn't believe it that the competition fell away which was tremendous news. I had managed to secure all five of the Robert Eggintons up for sale - I was ecstatic.

The final painting is of Mannin Bay in Connemara where several generations of our family have enjoyed holidays. My father has painted almost this very view in his days as an artist - but has long sold the work. This painting now hangs on a wall in my parents house for them to enjoy.

Ballynahinch River

The beautiful and popular fishing river of Ballynahinch in Connemara. This is where you'll find the best fly fishing in Ireland.

~ Fishing in Connemara Galway Ireland

~ Ballynahinch System

Photo of the painting

Renvyle in Connemara

The Renvyle peninsula is found at the far western part of the Connemara region in Ireland. This is where you can enjoy the peace and tranquility of the Connemara National Park and get away from the pressures of life. Artists and writers alike have made this area their home - and you can see why!

Enjoy being close to nature, and having a reminder on my wall helps me do just that!

Photo of the painting

Favorite Art Method

What is your favorite art method?

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About the Artist, Robert Egginton

From a family of fine artists

Robert Egginton was born in Devon, England in 1943. He's been a professional artist since leaving Art College and travels between England, Ireland and Scotland. Painting in both oils and watercolors, he prefers to work outside to enhance the atmosphere of his subjects. He paints detailed and accurate studies of important and well known land marks including mountain, river and seascapes.

He Comes from a family of well known painters, his grandfather, Wycliffe Egginton (1875-1951) and uncle, Frank Egginton (1908-1990) both painted in a similar watercolor style to Robert.

I first came across Frank Egginton's art in the 1970s long before I could rub two pennies together to buy any of his work, but it was almost twenty years later on a trip to Clifden in the west of Connemara that I stumbled on Robert's art. I can remember falling in love with this beautiful landscape scene of a mountain our family had just climbed which was only a few miles away from where we were.

Since then I have come across a few other of his works, but this auction was to be a big day for me and my tiny collection.

Ready For Unwrapping... - ...and enjoying!

Back home and I'm ready to unwrap five beautiful watercolors that I know will give us many years of enjoyment - especially as some of them are of places I know so well.

I triumphed over sinking feelings and experienced a very unusual art auction made all the more interesting by the Titanic sideshow.

This was an auction to remember!

A Titanic or Artsy Gesture Would Be Great - Please! - Thanks for your visit

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    • Lorelei Cohen profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      5 years ago from Canada

      Congratulations on having the winning bid on the paintings you so wanted. They do look like very relaxing pieces.

    • jlshernandez profile image


      5 years ago

      Congratulations on being the high bidder of 5 beautiful watercolors of Robert Egginton. It must been a great feeling to come home with these.


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