• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 5962

    The Vincent Ferguson Collection

    8 May 2009, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 256

    Basil Blackshaw, H.R.H.A. (b. 1932)

    Head of Traveller I

    Price Realised  


    Basil Blackshaw, H.R.H.A. (b. 1932)
    Head of Traveller I
    signed and dated 'BLACKSHAW/JAN 84' (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas
    18 x 14 in. (45.8 x 35.6 cm.)

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Blackshaw's Head of Travellers are important during this time for several reasons. Here we have the artist empathising with people on the edge of society. They are non-conformist, partly to be feared and admired at the same time. Their colourful disposition strikes a chord with Blackshaw, who in many ways is 'l'etranger', or the 'outsider' himself, by the dint of being a loner and an artist. What fired Blackshaw was the rawness in their heads, just the way they would 'paint their wagons up'. Art critic Mike Catto wrote of them in Basil Blackshaw - Painter, 1985: 'The superb Head of Travellers were far from lovely - no stage Irish rustics these; instead the artist gave us stripped-down, direct faces. There was an effect almost of a blurred out-of-focus photograph in these faces, a sensation which has echoed in many of his figures over the years'. American art critic Elliott Sherman who wrote of these heads which went on tour in the nineties said: 'Head of Travellers series evinces an eye for the survivor. Whether the blonde with a smear of mouth distinctly at odds with demure clothes, or the profile of a weathered man with a porkpie hat set atop an unruly bush of yellow hair, the most defined aspect of each traveller is their eyes. Never quite meeting ours, their eyes are slightly downcast and guarded, yet clearly canny and not missing a thing. All of Blackshaw's portraits, while divergent in style, remind us why people-watching can be so interesting'.

    Blackshaw knew each and everyone of these characters intimately. While these heads are the heads of notional people they were heads burnt into his memory. He drank with them. He communed with them. He identified with their way of life on the edge of society. These were characters whose existence he wanted to record in paint simply because they interested him. He said 'I knew the Boswells. I used to drink with them. Many of these people came and camped for months on what we called "the gypsy road". These were different characters from different families. Head of Traveller V (Fat Bob) "was more of a markets man than a traveller"'.

    We are very grateful to Eamonn Mallie, biographer of Basil Blackshaw, author of Blackshaw, Belfast, 2003, for providing the catalogue entries for lots 256-263, 300 and 302.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.
    Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

    Saleroom Notice

    Lot 256 Head of Traveller I : This lot will be offered subject to our standard sale terms and conditions, with the exception that immediately after the hammer falls on lot 256 following a successful sale of the lot, the winning bidder will be invited to take up the option to buy all the rest of the series of 'Traveller Heads' up to and including lot 260 at the same price as he or she bid for lot 256. This 'option' is not transferable and applies only to the 'winning bidder' of lot 256 and cannot pass to any other person. If the 'winning bidder' does not wish to take up the 'option' the auction will continue from lot 257 in the normal way.

    Pre-Lot Text

    Vincent Ferguson

    I first met Vincent Ferguson at the scattering of Patrick Collins' ashes in the Garavogue River in 1994. Vincent had organised the day. It was a very moving occasion. Patrick had never really left Sligo, for, as Sean McSweeney put it, he took the mood of the place in the month of June with him wherever he travelled. Sligo accompanied him through France and Spain. Through all the dark stages. Now he was coming home again. We went out by the Blue Lagoon towards Loch Gill, and the ceremony took place on a quiet section of the river. As Tony Cronin spoke the oration, suddenly everyone turned aside at the sound of a swan rising.
    A collection of souls, including Sean McSweeney and Basil Blackshaw, returned afterwards to the Fergusons' household. They looked like dry cereal, without milk, until the drink arrived with Basil discussing how Sam Beckett liked the touch of fur. And everywhere you went in the house paintings accompanied you on the walls. It was that rare combination - studio, gallery and home. And it was a great evening. Vincent, as Sean put it, always exuded great gentleness. A few years later he threw another party attended by artists and writers, including a number from Maugherow who were called upon to step into a photograph. Sinead Aldridge, Pat Doherty, Martina Gillen, Sean McSweeney and Leland Bardwell among others lined up. Then into the frame stepped the painter Bernard McDonagh, but since he was from Sligo town he had to step aside. Later on we started smoking Havana cigars. Ciara and Noeleen poured tea. There was a table filled with all manner of savouries. The doors were thrown open in the conservatory onto the garden, and glasses in hand we walked down to the shore, and the paintings in the house accompanied us ...
    I paid a visit to the house recently and tried to look at the works on the walls again before they were taken down, and to look at it from Vincent's and Noeleen's point of view as they moved about the house. Vincent started the collection of art work some 35 years ago with a picture entitled Haycocks by Retlan. There is a photograph of Vincent holding the painting. On the back of the frame is a note written by hand: 'I Retlan do hereby declare that I am the painter of certain work of art, this oil painting La Moisson and that the said painting is original'.
    As you enter the Fergusons' house in Rosses Point Paddy Collins is the first artist you meet. Patrick Collins was born in Dromore West and educated at St Vincent's Orphanage, Glasnevin, Dublin and then attended classes at the National College of Art. He is in the hallway, with the edges gone and nature cut off and floating in the space. Erosion is digging into the landscape, and you have walked right into an ongoing theme; Sligo and the environs. Sometimes seen from the air. Ascending the stairs to the bedrooms above is Jack B. Yeats in works the size of postcards - The Metal Man, Japanese Toy, The Red Pony, Will He Catch Them and Fire Ornament. At the head of the stairs are Nick Miller, Cormac O'Leary and Catherine McGowan, Charlie Brady and AE.
    In the TV room where he used to watch the sports are The Traveller Heads by Basil Blackshaw - wind-blown heads, hard chinned, bent on heading by, and then - The Last Walk (evening). There is a potted plant painted by Vincent himself, a picture of the Fergusons' dog, Taz, and a portrait of Vincent himself by Basil. By the window are works by Mick O'Dea, and Paul Culreavy. As he increased his collection, always Vincent was helping local, and as yet unknown, artists, enter the limelight.
    In the laundry room Charlie Brady has left a sandwich, an iced bun and a hat. In the bathroom nudes by Barrie Cooke float by. Ciara's bedroom is the sea room, with works by Sean McSweeney among others, returning the ocean outside with a wave of the brush onto the walls within. Facing him in the dining room, where Vincent would sit on the settee reading the newspapers first thing in the morning, were Basil's lovely ladies. And Dromore Abbey by T.P. Flanagan. Sligo again. Vincent's father John was a printer who served in the British Army in the 1st World War in Salonika, and ended up in hospital with dysentery. When he came home he hung his uniform on the back of the door; then Vincent's mother died when he was 5. She left behind 7 children.
    His first real job was as a clerk in Hanleys, Builders Providers, Old Market St. His boss Mr Soden spotted his ability with figures and encouraged him to do the correspondence course with Glasgow. He found he was good at figures and went to London and came back a qualified accountant, later joined The Irish Sugar Company, met Tony O'Reilly, and became one of the first venture capitalists in Ireland. He was still working for Independent newspaper up to his death and did the English Independent crossword everyday. Of all the business deals he did over the years his own personal art collection was the most financially successful, although he didn't buy to sell. He sold when he had to. And he had a great eye. And a great ear - there was another side to Vincent - the jazz man. I used to meet himself and Noeleen regularly at the Harp Bar where the Sligo Jazz lads play every Sunday morning. He always wore his polo neck to the Jazz sessions. His favourite tunes were 'The Peanut Vendor' and 'Bourbon Street', which was played at his funeral. He liked to travel. To the massive art collection in the Hermitage in St Petersburg founded by Catherine the Great. And one of the last times I was talking to him he had just returned from South Africa where he attended a dinner with Nelson Mandela. He spoke with great enthusiasm of the spirit of Mandela. And some weeks before he died himself and Noeleen made a trip to Provence in France, soaking up that great visual terrain that inspired so many artists.
    Vincent and Noeleen and family, after living in Dublin made it back to Rosses Point in Sligo in 1988. He hung the landscape of that county, and other worlds, on his walls, from the solitary figure of AE on the Strand, and The Kids OK by Brian Maguire, to Charlie Brady, and invited the stranger and the friend in to see where the eye travels. The work will travel on now to be seen by other strangers. Noeleen and Vincent's collection is a gift. He was a wise and generous man who always stood at the back of the crowd taking it all in, with a small wave. The French flag and the Irish flag once flew out in the back garden because of a marriage in the family. Vincent liked to sit out there and watch the rabbits slip through the stone elves as the waters raced by. Out in the back garden now there are a few bare poles that once flew flags that sported works by Matisse and Jack Yeats. They were torn to shreds by the sea winds.
    Somehow the empty flag poles, standing among the statuettes of fairy children, say it all.
    Dermot Healy, December 18 2008.


    B. Ferran (ed), Basil Blackshaw - Painter, Belfast, 1995, p. 53, pl. 53, illustrated.
    E. Mallie (ed), Blackshaw, Belfast, 2003, p. 164, pl. 63, illustrated.


    Dublin, R.H.A. Gallagher Gallery, The Vincent and Noeleen Ferguson Collection, January - March 1993, no. 8 as 'The Tinker Series'.
    Belfast, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Basil Blackshaw - Painter: Tour 1995-1998, 1995 - 1998, touring exhibition.
    Sligo, Model Arts and Niland Gallery, The Vincent and Noeleen Ferguson Collection, November 2005 - February 2006.