The art market in the New Year traditionally gets off to a rather slow start with just a scattering of fairs, dealer shows and auctions taking place in the first half of January.
However, many members of the trade
around the country are usually gearing up during this lull,
surveying their stock and getting ready to refresh their holdings
for the coming year. This appears to have been especially true for
early 2014, with the brighter economic outlook and greater movement
in the housing market leading to a more buoyant mood.
A good indication of confidence came at the
latest sale staged by Lawrences in Somerset. The three-day auction on
January 14 and 16-17 was something of a curtain-raiser in Crewkerne
to launch 2014 and, with over 300 picture lots on offer in a range
of categories and price levels, there was plenty for dealers and
private buyers to chew over.
In particular, there were a number of
notable marine pictures that commanded attention and drew keen
bidding from the trade. These included the sale's top picture -
Youth by Charles Napier Hemy (1841-1917).
It arrived in a group of assorted pictures from a private West
Country vendor who had no expectations that any of them might be
In the case of every other picture
this was true. However, this vivid seascape which came in a plain
white 1950s frame was not a print as believed by the owner. In fact
it was a 17½in x 2ft 3in (45 x 68cm) watercolour heightened with
white and had the distinct qualities of Hemy at his most exuberant
and swirling best.
It came in good condition which made
it even more desirable.
Signed with initials and dated 1902,
it was estimated at £2000-3000 - a highly attractive level with
little pressure being applied as to the reserve. The catalogue
noted that the work was probably a study for the artist's
full-scale oil painting of the same title which he exhibited at The
Royal Academy in 1903 (no.89) and to which it closely relates. It
is now in the Maritime Museum, Hartlepool.
Hemy frequently made watercolour
sketches before developing them into his more carefully worked
larger oils, but this example, even if it was a preparatory study,
could be regarded as a finished work in its own right.
There were plenty of attractive
trademark features here. A keen sailor himself, Hemy liked to show
figures straining and boats battling against choppy waters. He also
favoured positioning the horizon relatively high on the canvas,
allowing him to depict the full majesty of the sea (sometimes at
the expense of the masts which are often truncated, as was the case
While the quality of the image meant
that a price of up to £10,000 was mooted before the sale, the
picture had an extra element making it even more commercial. Hemy
watercolours dating from after 1881, when he settled in Falmouth,
Cornwall, mostly depict fishing boats, but this picture was
ostensibly not a fishing scene.
More of a sailing picture, the
gaff-rigged cutter was depicted as if it was racing. It therefore
drew a different kind of bidder from those who might normally turn
out for a Hemy watercolour.
With strong competition on the day, it
came down to a contest between a London dealer and a member of the
provincial trade, and it was knocked down to the former at
The sum is the highest for a work on
paper by Hemy according to Artnet.
The buyer's premium was