The prize consignment of paintings, sketches, ceramics and ephemera produced by key members of the Rhead family of potters, offered by Bearnes, Hampton & Littlewood in Exeter on January 22-23, comprised 117 lots in all.
While the objects in the collection fared well ( see separate report) but there was an equally encouraging reaction to the 34 picture lots. Only one work failed to sell, and even that got away quickly afterwards. There was also a run of new benchmarks in terms of the prices paid for fine art produced by members of the Rhead dynasty.
Although there was some trade interest, bidders were primarily private collectors whose main focus was on Rhead porcelain but who were prepared to bid for items across the board. This was clearly regarded as a unique opportunity to acquire works (many unrecorded) with a close connection to the famous family and it appears that, while they are understandably better known for pottery, their pictures could previously be regarded as a bit undervalued.
The top lot of the collection was the pâte-sur-pâte vase by Frederick Alfred Rhead (1856-1933), reported last week, which took £17,000. The source artwork for the vase was also on offer here, a 20½ x 13½in (52 x 34cm) oil on board with the title When the Angel with his Darker Draught Draws up to Thee. Estimated at £800-1200, it took £3400, selling to the same collector from the Home Counties bidding on the phone who purchased the vase.
The picture was a pretty impressive creation in its own right, with striking red colours to the angel's cloak, and this gave it an appeal beyond the more academic interest as a study for a piece of pâte-sur-pâte. In fact, the sum fetched would have been the highest price for a picture by Frederick Alfred Rhead had it not been for the work sold ten lots earlier.
Another heavily stylised picture, The Creation of Flowers and Plants, was a 21 x 13¾in (53 x 35cm) signed watercolour and bodycolour which was in good condition with the original colours well retained.
Here there was no indication given that the picture related to a porcelain work, although this could not be altogether discounted. The subject was thought to relate to the chapter in the Old Testament's creation story where God commands the Earth to produce the flowers and plants but, again, the colours and composition were certainly eye-catching.
Estimated at £1200-1800, it sparked lively competition between a number of parties and was knocked down at £5500 to a private collector who purchased a number of other items from the collection.
The top picture lot in the consignment overall was a rare work on paper by Frederick's brother, George Woolliscroft Rhead Jr (1854-1920). Although he was a talented pottery designer (like the rest of the family), he was also a noted painter, etcher and designer of stained glass. In fact, he was taught painting by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Ford Madox Brown and became a prominent figure in the English Arts and Crafts movement in his own right.
This 6¼ x 15½in (16 x 39cm) signed watercolour heightened with bodycolour was inscribed A Sacrifice to Neptune on the verso (appearing along with the artist's address in Putney). It was thought therefore that this might have been a study for a large-scale oil painting of the same title that he exhibited at the New Gallery in 1904.
However, it was not clear how this watercolour related to the full-scale painting as none of the figures in the latter version were similar to those here. The watercolour was also probably later in date, c.1916, when the artist and his wife were living in Putney.
An alternative subject suggested was Isabella from John Keats' poem The Pot of Basil. The poem tells the story of a young woman who buries her lover's head in a pot of basil which she tends obsessively, while pining away.
If there was any confusion caused by the inscription, it certainly didn't seem to dampen demand on the day. In good condition, having been kept under glass, it easily overshot its £800-1200 estimate to take £14,000 from the same collector who bought the more expensive of the Frederick Alfred Rhead pictures mentioned above.
While few works like this have appeared at auction to give a clear comparison, the sum was the highest seen in a UK saleroom for the artist. In fact, the only higher recorded price was the $24,000 (£16,160) seen for a larger oil painting entitled O Salutaris Hostia that sold at Christie's New York in October 2011.
The same buyer also bought Edwardian lady in a bed of tulips by Louis John Rhead (1857-1926). The 2ft 10in x 20in (86 x 51cm) signed oil on canvas board depicted an elegantly attired figure and had the rhythmical sense of Art Nouveau that the artist developed after he moved to America in 1883.
In decent condition other than some paint lifting at the bottom and needing a clean, it overshot a £1000-1500 pitch before it sold at £3100 - the highest sum at auction for a painting by the artist, even if a couple of colour lithographs have fetched more in the past.
Overall, the Rhead lots contributed £44,840 to the picture section total of £145,000. The selling rate here was 85%.
The buyer's premium at Bearnes, Hampton & Littlewood was 19%.