WITH a style, as one writer has put it, “sweetly intensified to a point where the world is reduced to a world of gossamer”, Annie French (1872-1965) was a Glasgow School artist who took the Art Nouveau idiom of Beardsley and Burne-Jones to new decorative extremes.
Like her student and teaching colleague Jessie King, French produced illustrations for a variety of media such as books, postcards and posters. It is the original watercolours for these commercial outlets which tend to make eye-catching prices on the fairly rare occasions when they turn up for sale at auction.
Two of French’s elaborately decorated female figures proved to be successful performers at Peter Francis’s (15% buyer’s premium) March 9 sale in Carmarthen. The 10 x 15in (25 x 38cm) composition, Fairy Queen picking Flowers, right, and the even more memorably catalogued 8 x 10in (20 x 25cm) Othelia (sic) in the Lake, had been entered in untouched condition from a private source via the auctioneer’s Cardiff office and were allocated less than intimidating estimates of £1000-15000 and £600-800 apiece.
At least two telephone bidders were interested in the watercolours, the larger of the two (watercolours, not bidders) eventually selling at £4800 and the ‘Othelia’ at £2500.
The auctioneers regarded this as plenty of money for these relatively small works on paper, but the final prices were broadly in line with the estimates for similar works by French that are included in Sotheby’s Scottish Pictures sale at Hopetoun House on April 19.