‘The James’ and ‘The Foremost Prince’ dated from 1934 and drew interest from a number of London dealers as well as a private buyer from Sussex who placed the winning bid.
The price at the auction in Stansted Mountfitchet on April 12 is one of the highest ever achieved by the artist at an auction outside London, although it trails the £265,000 set by the watercolour Aldeburgh Bathing Machines which sold at Banbury’s JS Auctions in September 2014 and remains the highest auction price anywhere for Ravilious.
The current sum nevertheless eclipsed the £76,000 posted by another important watercolour which also sold at Sworders back in April 2006, Salt Marsh which was bought by London dealers The Fine Art Society.
The work here was a 19.75 x 22.75in (50 x 58cm) signed watercolour depicting two boats in a harbour. It had provenance to the Zwemmer Gallery, the London dealers who staged the artist’s solo exhibition the year before the current picture was painted, and had changed hands at least twice before it was acquired by the vendor’s uncle.
It had also featured in the artist’s centenary retrospective held at the Imperial War Museum exhibition in London in 2003-4.
The sale in Stansted Mountfitchet took place less than 15 miles from Great Bardfield, the village in Essex where Ravilious and Edward Bawden (1903-89) moved in the early 1930s, creating the core of what was to become a well-known artists’ group.
Demand for Morris
The auction was Sworders’ inaugural Modern British Art and another lot that drew strong competition was Cedric Morris’s (1889-1992) Easter Bouquet, an abundant flower painting from 1934.
The 2ft 1in (64cm) square oil on canvas was signed by the artist and was exhibited at The National Gallery of Wales, Cardiff in 1946. It was deemed a prime example of the painter and horticulturalist’s sought after botanical studies and the £20,000-30,000 pitch clearly proved attractive to a number of interested parties.
It was eventually knocked down for £49,000, a sum that again represents one of the highest auction prices recorded for the artist.
The buyer’s premium at Sworders was 22%.