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According to Bamfords’ James Lewis, demand at the inaugural sale in their new Matlock branch on March 2 enjoyed the kind of improved levels of demand which have been reported by a number of other provincial auctioneers in recent weeks.

Here, despite being in gallery condition, the signed and dated 1892 George Turner (1843-1910) canvas, A Shady lane in Derbyshire, measuring 2ft 5 1/2in x 4ft (75cm x 1.21m), which had been bought at a fair in the late 1980s for a price not unadjacent to the lower end of its £5000-7000 estimate, managed to attract three bidders before selling at £5400.

Admittedly Derbyshire is serious George Turner country, but, even as recently as six months ago, middling-quality Victorian oils that were in relined and restored condition like this were struggling to find any bidders.

Far less problematic in terms of its commercial appeal was a signed Louis Wain (1869-1939) watercolour, Caught in the Act, which had emerged in vibrant, if laid-down, condition from a local private Derbyshire vendor.

This 7 1/2 x 10 1/2in (19.5 x 27cm) cat scene, showing a policeman attempting to arrest a feline sausage thief, was just the sort of composition which Wain collectors lap up, and a competition between four telephones and half a dozen commissions resulted in a price of £5000 against an estimate of £1500-2000.


A SIMILAR price level was achieved three days later on March 5 at the Birmingham rooms of Biddle & Webb (15% buyer’s premium) for a trade-entered and less obviously commercial, but nonetheless interesting watercolour by the American artist Thomas Waterman Wood (1823-1903).

Represented by more than 200 paintings in a museum devoted to his work in Wood’s native town of Montpelier, Vermont, the artist specialised in images which highlighted the social and political issues facing black Americans during and after the Civil War.

The signed and dated 1877 interior scene offered here in Birmingham measured 16 3/4 x 11 1/4in (42.5 x 28.5cm) and showed a black maid offering a quartered orange to the well-dressed daughter of the master of the house under the watchful gaze of her own less-privileged daughter.

Back in December 1998, a slightly smaller watercolour by Wood entitled Village Post Office fetched a double-estimate $55,000 (£33,130) at Sotheby’s New York. Presumably the trade vendor of this example must have been hoping for similar excitement in Birmingham with a pre-sale valuation of £6000-8000. However, the UK is perhaps not the best venue to sell socially conscious genre paintings about the American Civil War, and the reframed condition of the watercolour clearly suggested that it hadn’t been hanging on the wall of the same private house for the last 50 years.

That said, it did attract competition from at least two bidders before falling to a commission of £5800.