Newlyn makes its mark as fine art sales move from Billingshurst to Olympia UK: SOMETHING of a landmark, this year’s annual Garden Picture sale at Sotheby’s South (15/10 per cent buyer’s premium) held on May 23 was the last fine picture sale to be held at Summers Place before operations move to Olympia in September. The Sussex rooms will continue to hold monthly general picture sales and quarterly print sales.

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.