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On September 1, 1942, the day he arrived at RAF Kaldadarnes in Iceland, a Lockheed Hudson aircraft had failed to return from a patrol. The next morning three planes were despatched at dawn to search for it and Ravilious joined one of the crews.

While his disappearance is well known, the fate of the artist sent out to replace him in 1943 is not so familiar.

However, in a strange coincidence, Thomas Hennell (1903-45) would also eventually go missing in action, albeit in a very different region.

The Picture and Maritime sale at Mallams in Oxford on July 5 includes 10 watercolours by this enigmatic Second World War artist. Consigned by a private collector, they are expected to bring £500-800 each.

Born in Kent, the second son of a clergyman, Hennell was something of a “rural visionary, specialising in illustrations of British country crafts and craftsmen at work in and beyond the Home Counties”, says the saleroom. His friends Edward Bawden and Ravilious, who he first met in 1931, regarded his expressive ‘alla prima’ watercolours of a vanishing agricultural society, as ‘works of genius’.

At the outbreak of war in 1939, Hennell wrote to the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, offering his services as an artist. A year after replacing Ravilious, he sketched German prisoners of war and the launch sites of V-1 flying bombs as he moved through the north of France with the Canadian First Army.

Later based in the Far East with an RAF unit as the Japanese retreated, in November 1945 he was captured by Indonesian nationalist fighters in Surabaya, Java. He was presumed to have been killed shortly thereafter.

A number of Hennell’s works are held by the Imperial War Museum. The 10 works on paper in Mallams’ sale date from the 1930s and early ‘40s and depict scenes such as threshing, baling, and orchard clearing.

Hennell at auction

Several of Hennell’s British country scenes have come up at auction recently.

In February Essex saleroom Sworders sold a Hennell watercolour titled Building the Hayrick (marked Loading the Cart on verso) for £920 against an estimate of £600-800. The 6.5 x 11.5in (17 x 29cm) image had been exhibited in the Chris Beetles summer show in 2006.

Another Hennell watercolour, Ships figurehead outside cottage on the seafront at Sandgate, Folkestone, Kent, sold for a low-estimate £400 at The Canterbury Auction Galleries in October last year. The 14.5 x 10.75in (37 x 27cm) work was signed in pencil and dated 1931.

Woolley & Wallis of Salisbury offered two Hennell watercolours in June last year. Sheep in a wooded grove, pen, ink and watercolour, 12 x 16in (30 x 41cm), signed and dated 1939, sold for £1500 (estimate £500-700). Another pen, ink and watercolour, Farmland view with a plough, made a low-estimate £600. This 12 x 18in (30 x 46.5cm) work was signed and dated 1943.