The prize consignment of paintings, sketches, ceramics and ephemera produced by key members of the Rhead family of potters, offered by Bearnes, Hampton & Littlewood in Exeter on January 22-23, comprised 117 lots in all.
While the objects in the collection fared
see separate report) but there was an equally encouraging
reaction to the 34 picture lots. Only one work failed to sell, and
even that got away quickly afterwards. There was also a run of new
benchmarks in terms of the prices paid for fine art produced by
members of the Rhead dynasty.
Although there was some trade
interest, bidders were primarily private collectors whose main
focus was on Rhead porcelain but who were prepared to bid for items
across the board. This was clearly regarded as a unique opportunity
to acquire works (many unrecorded) with a close connection to the
famous family and it appears that, while they are understandably
better known for pottery, their pictures could previously be
regarded as a bit undervalued.
The top lot of the collection was the
pâte-sur-pâte vase by Frederick Alfred Rhead
reported last week, which took £17,000. The source artwork for
the vase was also on offer here, a 20½ x 13½in (52 x 34cm) oil on
board with the title When the Angel with his Darker Draught
Draws up to Thee. Estimated at £800-1200, it took £3400,
selling to the same collector from the Home Counties bidding on the
phone who purchased the vase.
The picture was a pretty impressive
creation in its own right, with striking red colours to the angel's
cloak, and this gave it an appeal beyond the more academic interest
as a study for a piece of pâte-sur-pâte. In fact, the sum fetched
would have been the highest price for a picture by Frederick Alfred
Rhead had it not been for the work sold ten lots
Another heavily stylised picture,
The Creation of Flowers and Plants, was a 21 x 13¾in (53 x
35cm) signed watercolour and bodycolour which was in good condition
with the original colours well retained.
Here there was no indication given
that the picture related to a porcelain work, although this could
not be altogether discounted. The subject was thought to relate to
the chapter in the Old Testament's creation story where God
commands the Earth to produce the flowers and plants but, again,
the colours and composition were certainly eye-catching.
Estimated at £1200-1800, it sparked
lively competition between a number of parties and was knocked down
at £5500 to a private collector who purchased a number of other
items from the collection.
The top picture lot in the consignment
overall was a rare work on paper by Frederick's brother,
George Woolliscroft Rhead Jr (1854-1920). Although
he was a talented pottery designer (like the rest of the family),
he was also a noted painter, etcher and designer of stained glass.
In fact, he was taught painting by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Ford
Madox Brown and became a prominent figure in the English Arts and
Crafts movement in his own right.
This 6¼ x 15½in (16 x 39cm) signed
watercolour heightened with bodycolour was inscribed A
Sacrifice to Neptune on the verso (appearing along with
the artist's address in Putney). It was thought therefore that this
might have been a study for a large-scale oil painting of the same
title that he exhibited at the New Gallery in 1904.
However, it was not clear how this
watercolour related to the full-scale painting as none of the
figures in the latter version were similar to those here. The
watercolour was also probably later in date, c.1916, when the
artist and his wife were living in Putney.
An alternative subject suggested was
Isabella from John Keats' poem The Pot of Basil. The poem tells the
story of a young woman who buries her lover's head in a pot of
basil which she tends obsessively, while pining away.
If there was any confusion caused by
the inscription, it certainly didn't seem to dampen demand on the
day. In good condition, having been kept under glass, it easily
overshot its £800-1200 estimate to take £14,000 from the same
collector who bought the more expensive of the Frederick Alfred
Rhead pictures mentioned above.
While few works like this have
appeared at auction to give a clear comparison, the sum was the
highest seen in a UK saleroom for the artist. In fact, the only
higher recorded price was the $24,000 (£16,160) seen for a larger
oil painting entitled O Salutaris Hostia that sold at
Christie's New York in October 2011.
The same buyer also bought
Edwardian lady in a bed of tulips by
Louis John Rhead (1857-1926). The 2ft 10in x
20in (86 x 51cm) signed oil on canvas board depicted an elegantly
attired figure and had the rhythmical sense of Art Nouveau that the
artist developed after he moved to America in 1883.
In decent condition other than some
paint lifting at the bottom and needing a clean, it overshot a
£1000-1500 pitch before it sold at £3100 - the highest sum at
auction for a painting by the artist, even if a couple of colour
lithographs have fetched more in the past.
Overall, the Rhead lots contributed
£44,840 to the picture section total of £145,000. The selling rate
here was 85%.
The buyer's premium at
Bearnes, Hampton & Littlewood was 19%.
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