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This final high quality sale did not go out with a bang, and specialist-in-charge James Gadd was slightly disappointed at the “patchy selling rate” and the “choosy” attitude of the trade whose presence was rather flat. A huge disappointment was the failure of the cover lot, an oil on canvas, The Picnic by Nathaniel Hartnell (fl.1829-64).

On May 22 1997 an oil with the same title by Victorian genre painter Henry Nelson O’Neil (1817-1880) was sold in these rooms to Richard Green at £175,000. There was no such luck for the Hartnell version which was bought in at £17,000 against a £20,000-30,000 estimate.

The difference between the two pictures, both depicting a large group of people dining al fresco, was quality. There was not much wrong with the Hartnell picture in terms of condition; it had been re-lined in the 1950s and bar a minimum of paint loss all it needed was a surface clean and minor retouching, yet there was something more fundamentally wrong.

“The Hartnell picture was a slightly more provincial, more primitive picture than the O’Neil,” said Mr Gadd and the trade seemed to have problems with the indefinable nature of the 2ft 4in by 3ft (71 x 91cm) canvas – it could not be labelled naive yet it was not highly worked. From the same family vendors as the O’Neil picture, the Hartnell was sold after the sale for £17,500.

The current strength of the Newlyn school injected a positive note to the proceedings with On the quay, Newlyn, an oil on canvas by Walter Langley (1852-1922), taking the top price of the day. Measuring 2ft 51/2in by 213/4in (75 x 55cm), the appeal of the privately consigned picture was largely due to its untouched condition, and its “nasty modern frame” did not deter a mixture of trade and private buyers from competitive bidding.

Depicting a mother holding her baby watched over by an elder boy – this was an attractive appealing image and recognisably Newlyn. After fierce bidding in the room and on ten phone lines, it sold to an anonymous bidder at £40,600.

Mr Gadd was “slightly speculative” about what kind of success a mid-19th century folio of some 40 Chinese School watercolours would see. All depicting flora and fauna, the images were all signed with Chinese characters and each sheet measured 153/4 by 193/4in (40 x 50cm).

“It was hard to anticipate how much interest there would be,” said Mr Gadd which explains the conservative £3000-5000 estimate. The London trade saw the money-spinning potential of such a lot when separated and the successful dealer took the set at £24,000.

“A lovely fresh picture,” was how an oil by Thomas Creswick RA (1811-69) entitled A Summer’s Day on the Thames was described. This signed image measuring 201/4 by 2ft 31/2in (52 x 70cm) was estimated at £8,000-12,000 and in its original period frame under glass Mr Gadd believed there was nothing going against this image of a family group at the riverside in the evening sunlight, and the London trade agreed, taking it at £14,000.

“It is still the fresh lots from private vendors, in unrestored condition which have a strong market,” said Mr Gadd and certainly this applied to Hiding from the Rain, a “classic chocolate box” image of two dogs hiding from the lashing rain in a doorway watching a snail by Phillip Eustace Stretton (fl.1884-1919). At first glance the 2ft 63/4 by 23in (78 x 59cm) signed and unframed oil appeared in rather poor condition with a “baggy” canvas, surface scratching and paint loss yet this was what the trade seemed to want – a “clean slate”. After spirited bidding the £1000-2000 estimated canvas was chased to £12,000 by the UK trade.

ON a slightly more contemporary theme the success story that is L.S. Lowry (1887-1976) continued at the Stansted Mountfitchet rooms of Sworders' (15 per cent buyer’s premium) on May 31.

A privately consigned oil on panel, A Lancashire woman sitting down, was rather an unusual work by an artist renowned for his ‘matchstick men’ figures. The subject of this work was a slightly rotund figure in a red dress and with simplified facial features.

Signed and dated 1961, the 63/4 by 51/2in (17 x 14cm) image, which had been exhibited at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool in 1973, was in good condition and took a mid-estimate £14,500.

From the same vendor came another Lowry, a signed and dated pencil sketch also from 1961 entitled Figures in a landscape, which brought an above-estimate £3500. However, a further ‘Lowry’, again from the same vendor, failed to sell after doubts concerning its authenticity.