Tuesday - 02 September 2014

Wartime prints marching to the fore

28 March 2014Written by Alex Capon

Images and footage of the First World War seem to be featuring prominently on TV at the moment, no doubt part of the extra attention engendered by the marking of the centenary of the outbreak of the conflict in 1914.

In terms of works appearing at auction, scenes of the Great War have been coming up more frequently than usual as vendors are likely to be taking advantage of the additional interest.

Bonhams' sale of prints in London on April 15 entitled The Grosvenor School and Avant-Garde British Printmaking, for example, will offer a notable selection of wartime impressions.

As well as a lucrative selection of Nevinson prints of First World War subjects, the auction will also offer a rare complete set of the Petites Images de la Guerre sur le Front Britannique series by the French artist Jean-Emile Laboureur (1887-1947).

Laboureur, who served as a translator for the British army during the war, produced several portfolios of copper engravings during this time depicting scenes he would have witnessed first-hand among the troops. The suite at Bonhams dates from 1917 and comprises nine signed prints, each measuring 11.5 x 9in (29 x 23cm).

As well as being evocative subjects in their own right, they demonstrate the artistic qualities that Laboureur was able to master (possibly by adopting a magnifying glass to help with the execution), such as the finely conceived lines and delicate cross-hatching.

The nine prints at Bonhams, which will be offered as a single lot, form one of only four complete sets of this suite that are known. They will be sold along with two letters from the artist and a subscription note detailing the edition breakdown and the corresponding retail prices.

The estimate is £8000-12,000.

Returning to the Trenches

Meanwhile, leading the charge among the CRW Wynne Nevinson (1889-1946) wartime studies at the sale is a copy of the sought-after print Returning to the Trenches. The drypoint from 1916 showing a line of marching troops with pointed bayonets is estimated at £60,000-80,000.

Another rare offering is the 1917 lithograph Loading the Ship which depicts workers carrying cargo onto a vessel. From an edition of 25, it was one of Nevinson's first three lithographs which, along with Dawn at Southwark, 1916, and La Villete, 1917, were exhibited together at the Senefelder Club in London towards the end of January 1917.

The copy of Loading the Ship at Bonhams is estimated at £30,000-50,000.

The auctioneers are also holding a separate exhibition of 18 Nevinson prints (mainly First World War period) from a private collection, which will be on view for two weeks alongside the sale. 

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