Banbridge sculptor FE McWilliam among David Bowie's art heroes

A forthcoming auction of David Bowie's private art collection includes a sculpture long recognised as a famous Londonderry landmark.

Friday, 28th October 2016, 1:26 pm
Updated Monday, 31st October 2016, 9:54 am
David Bowies collection is expected to sell for more than £10m

Among Bowie’s impressive collection is ‘Study Princess Macha 1’, by celebrated sculptor F E McWilliam, a “macquette” – or preliminary model – of the Princess Macha bronze sculpture located at the entrance to Londonderry’s Altnagelvin Hospital.

The sculpture, which was acquired by Bowie in 1994, is expected to sell for between £12,000 and £18,000 when it goes under the hammer at Sotheby’s in London next month.

Two other bronze sculptures by McWilliam, one of Northern Ireland’s most renowned artists, could sell for between £6,000 and £8,000.

The Princess Macha sculpture, by F E McWilliam, at the entrance to Altnagelvin Hospital

Bowie, who died in January aged 69, was a secretive yet prolific collector of artwork.

Pieces by artists including Damien Hirst, Henry Moore and Marcel Duchamp are also set to go under the hammer.

Sotheby’s expect the singer’s entire art collection to sell for more than £10m at the auction on November 10 and 11.

Although Bowie told the BBC in 1999 that “the only thing I buy obsessively and addictively is art”, little had been known about his life as an art collector until after his death.

The Princess Macha sculpture, by F E McWilliam, at the entrance to Altnagelvin Hospital

He did not buy on the basis of reputation or for investment but because of his own personal response to each artist and their work.

“David Bowie’s collection offers a unique insight into the personal world of one of the 20th Century’s greatest creative spirits,” said Oliver Barker, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe.

Born in 1909, Frederick Edward McWilliam is widely regarded as one of Ireland’s most famous sculptors.

He grew up in Banbridge, Co Down, as the son of a local doctor. McWilliam was educated at Campbell College, Belfast, and Belfast College of Art and Design, before following in the footsteps of Turner, Constable and Gainsborough by being elected to London’s Royal Academy of Arts in 1959. He died of cancer in London in 1992.

Art historian Dickon Hall says the inclusion of McWilliam’s work is “great for Northern Ireland”.

“It’s lovely to have a Northern Ireland angle to the auction,” he said. “This brings the work to a whole new group of people.”

A spokesperson for the estate of David Bowie said that his family was “keeping certain pieces of particular personal significance”, but that it was “now time to give others the opportunity to appreciate – and acquire – the art and objects he so admired”.

‘Princess Macha’ has stood at the entrance to Altnagelvin Hospital for more than five decades.

Eerected when Altnagelvin opened in 1960, McWilliam’s subject linked the new hospital to ancient Ireland since Macha reputedly founded the first hospital in Ireland at Eamhain Mhacha in 300 BC.