Rise of Winifred Nicholson goes on apace with amazing bid of £100,000 for portrait of Ben: Over the last two or three years Winifred Nicholson (1893-1981), the first wife of Ben Nicholson, has become an increasingly significant figure in the Modern British market, culminating in the record £52,000 paid last July at Phillips for one of her trademark window still lives.
She will be taken even more seriously by Modern British specialists in the aftermath of the extraordinary £100,000 paid on January 31 at Lawrence’s (15% buyer’s premium) of Crewkerne for a 1930 oil and pencil on canvas portrait of her husband Ben (in blue jumper) that bore an estimate of just £10,000-15,000 in the sale catalogue.
Entered by a private vendor whose husband had acquired it from an unknown source “at least 20 years ago”, this 2ft 21/2in by 191/2in (67 x 50cm) half-length portrait of Ben Nicholson sketching was thought to have dated from the late 1920s and had been exhibited at the Leicester Galleries in April 1930 (where it was bought by one C.F. Taylor Esq.) just a year and a half before Ben Nicholson left Winifred for Barbara Hepworth.
It is one of at least three Winifred Nicholson portraits of her husband Ben, another example being in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. Condition of this particular example was absolutely untouched under glass in its original frame.
Winifred Nicholson’s so-called ‘window still lives’ incorporating landscape motifs tend to be her most sought-after works, but the biographical interest of Ben Nicholson as a subject pushed this particular work into a different financial league.
Despite suggestions from the trade that in terms of pure quality this was not one of the artist’s more remarkable works, an upwardly revised estimate of £20,000-40,000 was left far behind as the London works of art dealer Daniel Katz and Richard Green locked telephone bids until Katz finally got the upper hand at a record £100,000.
This is the latest addition to what is becoming an increasingly impressive collection of decreasingly available ‘museum quality’ Modern British works privately owned by Daniel Katz.
Readers of Antiques Trade Gazzette's Art Market might also remember the wartime John Minton self-portrait that Katz bought for a record £44,000 at Phillips last March.
Boosted by the presence of this record-breaking Nicholson – and the imminence of the spring Olympia fair – Lawrence’s registered a substantial total of £175,000 from the 189 lots of pictures they offered on January 31 and February 1 with just 14 per cent of the material left unsold. “There was a markedly more upbeat atmosphere in the room,” commented auctioneer Richard Kay, perhaps reflecting the slightly desperate enthusiasm trade bidders have at the moment for the few qood quality, freshly entered pictures that are currently coming onto the UK auction market.
Upbeat they may be, but Ben Nicholson portraits apart, dealers were still cautious, as was shown when this Somerset sale’s other main picture – a pair of showy, if rather dark still lives of cut flowers by Margherita Caffi (c.1650-1710) from a London deceased’s estate – sold to a provincial dealer at £11,000, just above the lower estimate.
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