Norman Cornish pub scene
‘General Bar Scene Spennymoor’ by Norman Cornish that sold for £16,000 at Tennants.

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The picture of men drinking in a Spennymoor pub was a trademark subject for the County Durham mining artist but the busy scene with numerous figures – and the presence of a whippet watching its master playing darts – made it particularly commercial.

The 21 x 2ft 8in (53 x 81cm) signed mixed media composition came to auction from a private collector from the north east of England but had previously been with the University of Northumbria. The artist had given a substantial number of his pictures to the university for its permanent collection in 1997 but the university’s gallery has also staged a number of exhibitions offering his works for sale.

The market for the artist witnessed a run of high prices shortly after Cornish’s death three years ago but the supply of his most desirable works has slowed down a bit since then.

Estimated at £12,000-15,000, the picture here drew a decent competition before it was knocked at £16,000 to a private buyer from Co. Durham. In terms of auction prices for Cornish, the sum stands only behind the £16,500 bid for the larger oil on board A street scene in Spennymoor which sold at Newcastle saleroom Anderson & Garland back in March 2010.

The price though exceeded the £14,000 which the crayon and chalk study Two men and a whippet at a bar made at Tennants in March 2015.

Norman Cornish picture of Eddy’s Fish and Chip Shop

‘Figures before Eddy’s Fish and Chip Shop’ by Norman Cornish that sold for £8000 at Tennants.

Another picture by Cornish drew an even stronger competition but made a lesser sum at Tennants’ summer fine art sale on July 15.

Figures before Eddy's Fish and Chip Shop had been acquired directly from the artist by a member of the vendor’s family and appeared here with a £2500-3500 estimate.

The 10.5 x 14.5in (27 x 36.5cm) mixed media work drew a strong bidding battle that carried it well over this level, before it was eventually knocked down to a private buyer from North Yorkshire at £8000 – a solid sum for a work of this size.

Norman Cornish: Biographical details

  • Born in Spennymoor, County Durham and became a miner aged 14. Worked in four mines over 33 years.
  •  A self-taught artist, he joined the Spennymoor Sketching Club and painted pictures of the local collieries, later exhibiting at the Northern Academy and the Stone Gallery in Newcastle.
  •  Commissioned to paint a large canvas at Durham’s County Hall in 1962.
  •  Became a full-time artist at the age of 47.
  •  Featured in TV programmes including Tyne Tees Television’s Shapes of Cornish in 1976.
  •  University of Northumbria publishes Cornish and Spennymoor in 1999 and stages a solo show of his work in 2003.