Monday - 24 November 2014

The price of peace for Nevinson in Paris

27 August 2013Written by Alex Capon

Demonstrating the benefits that provincial auctioneers continue to derive from the growth in demand for Modern British art, a number of this summer’s sale highlights in the regions were supplied by 20th century pictures.

Among them was a collection of six prints by CRW Nevinson (1889-1946) which came up at Dominic Winter last month and, offered separately, provided over half the total for their latest fine art and antiques sale.

Back in July 2006, the South Cerney saleroom notably lifted the bar for the artist when they sold another group of six Nevinson pictures, three of which fetched over £20,000, including Returning to the trenches from 1916 which took £38,000 and set the highest price for a print by the artist at that time.

A series of records for Nevinson prints followed soon after in the London rooms and the current auction high now stands at £95,000, set at a Sotheby's sale in March 2012 for one of his wartime aviation prints, Banking at 4000 Feet.

The six etchings at the latest Dominic Winter sale came from a different source but one that had an interesting personal connection to the artist. They had been acquired some time ago by the father of a recently deceased family member who had been an officer in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. He seems to have got to know Nevinson well and one of the works came with a handwritten Christmas greeting from the artist's wife.

However, whereas the consignment back in 2006 focused primarily on war subjects, here the prints were all peacetime scenes of France (five of Paris and one of Dieppe). They dated from the 1920s and early '30s, although definitive dates for all bar one of the prints could not be fully established.

Wartime Premium

In price terms, there remains a sizeable gulf between Nevinson's wartime imagery and the rest of his oeuvre, and so, although these were fine impressions in good condition and relatively rare on the market, they were never likely to reach the highs of his Vorticist-style prints of military manoeuvres.

However, with little pressure applied to the estimates, the prints here were all pitched at attractive levels and duly drew considerable attention. Interest came from a couple of UK private buyers, the London trade and at least one other bidder from overseas. In the end, they were all knocked down to an American collector on the phone.

Drawing the most competition among the six lots offered on July 17-18 was Pont des Arts, Paris, which was deemed the most eye-catching image in the collection. A 12¼ x 10in (31 x 25cm) etching with aquatint which was signed in pencil, it depicted figures with umbrellas crossing the pedestrian bridge over the Seine which links the Institut de France to the Palais du Louvre.

It was a clear and crisp image, and few copies have appeared on the market over the 20 years. Estimated at £1000-1500, it was knocked down at £15,500.

Three of the other works were also views of Parisian bridges which had the same estimate: Le Pont Royal, Paris from 1934 (part of an edition of 40) which took £8200; La Cité, Paris from c.1930 which took £11,000 (another copy took £9500 at Bonhams in London the day before); and Le Pont Neuf which fetched £10,000.

Meanwhile, a much smaller etching, Paris d'autrefois - Roofs of Montmartre, was offered with a lower pitch of £500-800. Measuring just 3½ x 5½in (9 x 14cm), it came with the handwritten Christmas message from Nevinson's wife Kathleen. Separately mounted beneath the printed image, it read: "Greetings & all good wishes for Christmas & the New Year, & love from Kathleen".

Whether the added personal attachment made any difference to the price is unclear, but it was knocked down at £6000 - a decent sum for a work of this size.

Dieppe Harbour

The final print in the consignment was an attractive etching of boats at Dieppe Harbour. Likely produced at the same time as another view of the port, entitled The Balcony, Dieppe  that Nevinson made from a nearby high window in 1929, the 12¾in x 10¼in (33 x 26cm) print here was in decent condition although there were one or two spots. Estimated at £700-1000, it took a bid of £6800.

Overall, the Nevinson prints contributed £57,500 to the sale's overall hammer total of just over £100,000. On the back of these results, the auctioneers have now received another print by the artist, the lithograph Reliefs at Dawn from 1918, which will appear in at their next fine art sale scheduled for October 2, estimated at £10,000-15,000. The wartime subject may well yield further benefit here, as may well be the case when Sotheby's offer another copy of Banking at 4000 Feet on September 17.

The buyer's premium at Dominic Winter is 19.5%

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