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The sale, titled The Curated Eye: Selected works from the Hertfordshire County Council Collection, will be held on March 21.

The 428 pictures, from the council’s 1828-strong art collection, had been acquired over a number of years. The council began collecting in 1949 as part of what was called the School Loan Collection, a post-war initiative founded by Sir John Newsom, Hertfordshire’s chief education officer, to teach pupils across the county about art.

Many of the works, by Modern British artists such as Barbara Hepworth, Carel Weight, Julian Trevelyan, Keith Vaughan and John Minton, were purchased in the 1950s-60s.

Brett Tryner, associate at Cheffins, said: “The selection features works from some of the most renowned British artists of the 20th century; from the surrealist John Tunnard to the vorticist artist, Edward Wadsworth. This important collection is representative of the post-war artistic period.”

He added: “Although many of the artists had a strong reputation at the time of the council’s purchase, the vast proportion were often overlooked in place of bigger names from Europe or further afield. New-found appreciation, retrospectives and recent academic publications have helped to grow a burgeoning market for these artists amongst mainly UK-based collectors, galleries and institutions.”

The collection includes a pastel work by Scottish artist Joan Eardley, which has an estimate of £12,000-18,000, a surrealist picture from John Tunnard titled Brandis 1944, estimated at £10,000-15,000, and war artist John Nash’s The Paddock estimated at £2000-3000. There are also works by the artists from the renowned Great Bardfield circle, based in Essex, including Kenneth Rowntree, Michael Rothenstein and George Chapman. 

Councillor Terry Douris, Hertfordshire County Council’s cabinet member for education, libraries and localism, said: “With 60% of the art collection in storage and not available to the public, the county council believes that the approach it is taking to the art collection balances its fiduciary duty to its council taxpayers to use the full resources available to it to best advantage, while aiming to achieve much improved access and display of the retained collection for the public.”

Initially 160 works will be offered, with a further 268 lower value paintings to follow. The entire sale is expected to raise around £300,000.

Works being retained include four wall hangings by British artist weaver Peter Collingwood. One of these is displayed in the Welwyn Garden City library and plans are being made for the three other works to be conserved and displayed.

The council also retains four statues, insured for £21.85m, including a Henry Moore and two works by Hepworth.

The art education scheme was suspended in 2012 and permanently discontinued in 2017.

Cheffins auctions can be viewed online at thesaleroom.com.