It wasn’t too long ago that Newlyn School artists were ranked right up alongside the leading lights of the Modern British art market.
Back in the late 1980s, they provided a
string of headline-grabbing results in the saleroom. But since
then, although prices for artists like Laura Knight (1877-1970)
have continued to rise, buyers' tastes have moved on somewhat from
pre-First World War works and more towards the later 20th
Nowadays, in purely commercial terms, they
have been left behind by the likes of Stanley Spencer (1891-1959),
Edward Burra (1905-76) and L.S. Lowry (1887-1976), who have been
commanding sums in excess of £1m.
Walter Langley's (1852-1922) Waiting
for the Boats, for instance, made a low-estimate £120,000 at
Sotheby's in May, not a vast improvement on the £98,000 it had made
at Christie's in June 1999 and even less if you take inflation into
Indeed, in the last few years there have
been reports that certain Newlyn School works offered at auction
have made less than hoped, although it should be noted that
high-quality pictures by the major Newlyn names such as Stanhope
Forbes (1857-1947), Norman Garstin (1847-1926) and Langley himself
have not been in particularly strong supply either.
For followers who believe the Newlyn
artists' use ofplein airpainting, their evocation of natural light,
as well as their primary focus on everyday life, made them a
pioneering and influential colony in the history of British art,
their works may well now seem good value by comparison to the rest
of the Mod Brit market.
Newlyn Art in Surrey
There certainly remains a healthy body of
dealers and collectors actively tracking Newlyn School pictures
when they emerge for sale. And this would no doubt explain the
interest generated by a consignment of ten pictures offered at Wellers
(20% buyer's premium) sale in Chertsey in Surrey, especially since
they were offered without reserve.
Together, the three pictures by Walter
Langley, four by Edwin Harris (1855-1906) and one each by Henry
Scott Tuke (1858-1929), Charles Napier Hemy (1841-1917) and Charles
MacIver Grierson (1864-1939) made a total of £92,000 hammer.
The sale came about following the
resolution of a legal dispute, with the auctioneers receiving
instruction to sell the collection from the High Court Sheriff's
Office. Originally scheduled for sale on September 8, the ten works
were withdrawn but then re-entered for the September 22
Although no further information was
released regarding the background to the collection, whoever formed
it clearly had an eye for Newlyn scenes and appears to have
purchased at least three of the works from the London auction
One of them was a particularly interesting
early painting by Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929).
Drawing multiple bidders, Dinner Time: Ambrose Rouffignac in
the Sail Loft was a 12¼ x 19¾in (32 x 50cm) signed oil
on canvas which had a particular resonance in terms of its
connection to Newlyn.
It was painted shortly after the artist
left Paris and arrived in the picturesque Cornish fishing port in
1883. Along with Shipbuilders painted in the same year
(which incidentally sold for £32,000 at Christie's in June 2005),
it was one of the first paintings he produced during his relatively
short period in Newlyn before he returned to his childhood home of
Falmouth in 1885.
Living in a house in Trewarveneth Street
belonging to a sailmaker, the 25-year-old Tuke noticed that the
loft where his landlord stored the sails and other equipment had
certain effects of light which could make for an interesting
background to a picture.
He chose to depict the 13-year-old Ambrose
Rouffignac in a direct and sensitive manner which was deemed both
engaging and appealing in terms of its composition and handling of
light. A local lad from a nearby house, the subject was shown
sitting on the bench in the shadowy loft holding a knife and some
bread with the bundled sails behind him.
Thought to be Tuke's first model in
Newlyn, Ambrose was the son of a fisherman whose family had
Huguenot ancestry and whose mother had died the year before. He
went on to become a master mariner and a captain in the merchant
navy but died in May 1917 when his ship, SS Antinoe, was
torpedoed and sunk in the First World War. Relatives of the
Rouffignac family live in the town to this day.
The picture in Surrey had previously sold
for £3800 at Sotheby's in June 1996 (where it was simply titled
The Fisher Boy) and had been exhibited at Penlee House
Gallery and Museum in Penzance three years ago.
For collectors of Tuke, however, it was
probably a bit dimly lit compared to his impressionistic outdoor
scenes and, for dealers, it was less commercial than his later
works depicting young male nudes which have made six-figure sums on
Nevertheless, pitched at £5000-8000 for
Wellers' sale, around ten interested parties turned out on the day,
including a number of telephone and internet bidders, as well as
commissions left on the book. Taken up to a final £30,000, it was
eventually knocked down to a telephone buyer representing Penlee
House Gallery and the saleroom broke into applause as the gavel
The purchase fills a gap in the gallery's
collection - it holds two watercolours but this was the first
acquisition of an oil painting by Tuke. The funds were raised
thanks to the friends of the gallery, the Art Fund and the V&A
The gallery's director, Alison Bevan, told
ATG: "It's a good and fair price, I think. We have a large
collection of Newlyn School pictures and this work will obviously
be a key addition."
Making a slightly higher sum at the sale
was the best Walter Langley 1852-1922) picture.
Old Grace was another picture which may have interested UK
institutions as it was a well-known study for Langley's important
oil painting of 1894 entitled Never morning wore to evening,
but some heart did break, which is now in Birmingham City Art
The model was Grace Kelynack, the elderly
widow of a Newlyn fisherman.
It had originally been owned by a Mr
Jewell, the purchaser of the larger and more detailed finished
painting. He had been given the study by an embarrassed Langley
after the artist had unsuccessfully tried to buy back the finished
work following an approach by the Chantry Bequest with a view to
saving it for the nation.
This 16½ x 12¼in (42 x 31cm) signed oil on
canvas had been on loan to the Birmingham City Art Gallery before
it was sold at Christie's for £24,000 in November 2001. Here in
Surrey, it was estimated at £8000-12,000, but was taken up to
£33,000 and sold to an undisclosed buyer.
Another picture by Langley at the sale was
a sepia watercolour entitled The Old Harbour Wall, which
depicted a characterful old lady (also perhaps Grace Kelynack)
holding a fish basket and looking out to sea. Here, the 19¼in x 2ft
4in (49 x 71cm) picture had previously sold at Sotheby's in June
2004 for £10,000.
This time round, however, it fetched a bit
less, getting away at £7200 against a £5000-8000 estimate.
A smaller portrait of a younger woman from
the same period also drew interest, selling for £8600 against a
£4000-6000 estimate. Mending the quilt, a 15¾ x 7½in (40 x
19cm) view of young girl seated on a sea wall was signed and dated
1894. It was a classic Newlyn School picture by Langley in terms of
style and subject.
The best competition among the
Edwin Harris (1855-1906) pictures came for two
portraits of local Newlyn characters. The Old Salt, an 8 x
6in (20 x 15cm) signed oil on panel of a Cornish fisherman, took
£3900 (est: £2000-4000), while another identically-sized oil on
panel of a different bearded man went over its £1000-1500 estimate,
selling for £1700.
The seascape by Charles
Napier Hemy (1855-1906) also drew good
Taken up to £2900 against a £500-800
estimate, Fishing boat in stormy seas made a
mid-range sum for the artist.
Overall, the Wellers sale showed these Newlyn School artists can
still fetch decent sums, although it would be easier to gauge the
state of the market if a major Stanhope Forbes, for example,
appeared for sale.
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