An art dealer whose business was brought to its knees by Union flag protests is now discounting paintings by up to £55,000 in a desperate bid for survival.
Charles Gilmore of Gilmore Fine Art in Belfast city centre said his livelihood — and that of the 35 local artists he represents — is suffering extensively from the loss of trade amid weekly loyalist marches to and from the city hall.
He said he is supporting this newspaper’s ‘We’re Backing Belfast’ campaign and, as such, he will be reducing prices in his Oxford Street gallery by up to 50% from tomorrow until Saturday in a bid to attract customers.
The deal of the day — and currently the most expensive painting on the premises — is a painting by Louis Le Brocquy, Man With Open Mouth, which has been slashed in price by 44% from £125,000 to £70,000.
However, there will also be thousands of pounds knocked off other works by artists including Stephen Forbes, Justin Vaughan, Joanna Tinsley, Noel Murphy, Bernadette Breen and David Sweet, which usually retail for between £1,000 and £15,000.
Mr Gilmore (46), who has been in business for more than 20 years, said a downturn in the market became apparent at the start of last November.
“We were probably having our best year since the recession started but then that all stopped suddenly,” he said.
“First of all, they introduced new bus lanes into the city centre, which was bad enough, but then the flag protests started and sales have subsequently fallen off a cliff.
“Normally we could do our whole week’s turnover on a Saturday alone but we have not sold a single painting on a Saturday in eight weeks.
“On top of that, on at least 10 days between Christmas and the New Year we had to close early because of the protests.”
He added: “Altogether, I estimate that we have suffered a loss in sales of more than £200,000 as a result of the disruption.”
If the situation doesn’t improve very soon, Mr Gilmore said the future of the gallery — which is currently up for sale — is at risk.
“We are toying with the idea of moving the gallery to another premises in Holywood and turning this building into a coffee shop,” said Mr Gilmore. “The footfall here is huge because of its proximity to the courts.”
Backing the Belfast Telegraph campaign, Mr Gilmore said retailers needed to do their best to entice customers into Belfast.
“To get the economy running again people need to spend and if they are going to spend they want really good value,” he said.
“Giving 10% off or a small incentive isn’t good enough so we’ve decided we’re going to give a huge incentive for people to come and buy again because we have £500,000 worth of stock here at the moment to sell.”
He acknowledged that it is a far cry from the days of Northern Ireland’s booming economy when money appeared to be no object.
“The most expensive painting we have ever sold was by the artist Jack B Yeats (brother of poet WB) for £1m to a local businessman,” said Mr Gilmore.
“We’ve sold well over £10m worth of Yeats over the last 10 years, so we were averaging over £1m a year alone in Yeats. When we opened in 2006, business was booming, but the recession has hit us because of the high-end art market we’re in.”