ON the same day as Whyte’s Dublin sale, the Irish theme continued this side of the water at Essex when Sworders (15 per cent buyer’s premium) offered a drawing by Sir William Orpen (1878-1931) at their Stansted Mountfichet rooms on April 29 – a 16 by 14in (40 x 35cm) signed pencil and coloured washes piece entitled The Furniture Painter.
Although the privately entered work bore old Colnaghi labels to the verso, auctioneer Guy Schooling was certain the highly decorative drawing had never before been offered at public auction. Condition was good, having been kept hidden away from daylight to prevent fading. The only downside was the rather unsympathetic mount but this was something easily remedied.
Surprisingly for a work by Orpen – whose Portrait of Gardenia St George remains the most expensive Irish picture ever sold at auction after it took £1.2m at Sotheby’s on May 18 2001 – The Furniture Painter attracted virtually no Irish interest. No problem for the vendor though – UK interest was strong enough to require five telephone lines.
Mr Schooling’s estimate of £5000-8000 was a blatant “come and get me” figure but even privately he was hoping for no more than about £18,000.
As it was, the Fine Art Society had to go to £47,000 for what the Society’s Andrew McIntosh Patrick described as “the most ambitious Orpen drawing he had ever seen” and “a wonderful thing no matter who it was by”.
The vendor’s wife was less enamoured of Orpen’s craftsmanship and remarked with shock to Guy Schooling when learning of the drawing’s success: “What? Surely not that rather garish young man?”
Orpen’s name is well known, but Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) is more famous. Works by the great man rarely appear at auction, let alone at sales outside London, but Sworders could offer one, albeit probably executed when Turner was still a teenager.
The 14 by 9in (36 x 24cm) pencil and grey wash drawing No.8 view near Reichenbach after J.R.Cozens may have been a derivative work, but bearing in mind Turner’s later journeys through the Alps it was an extraordinarily prescient one. Furthermore it was well executed and it good condition. The estimate of £1000-2000 must, again, have been a “here to sell” signal. Specialist bidders responded and it was eventually knocked down to the London trade at £11,000.
From the same source as the Turner came James McIntosh Patrick’s Castle Campbell... A Highland Castle with two mounted horsemen. Rather intriguingly, back in 1938 the work was sold by the Fine Art Society so it seemed fitting for the artist’s son Andrew, acting in his capacity as a director of the Fine Art Society, to buy it back when it appeared at the Essex rooms.
McIntosh Patrick began life as an etcher and engraver and this was one of his earliest oils. Signed and dated ’38, the 12 by 16in (30 x 40cm) oil on canvas was a bit loose on its stretcher which meant the canvas had a slight fold in it.
The picture was also deemed a bit too ‘green’ by some and the subject matter a bit too unexciting.
But for the Fine Art Society and Andrew McIntosh Patrick, the family connection was too much to pass up and against hopes of £2000-4000, it took £5000.