‘The Black Lion’ by Hugh Cronyn
‘The Black Lion’, a woodcut by Hugh Cronyn, £950 at Chiswick Auctions.

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Originally from Vancouver, he began as an artist in Toronto training under Franz Johnston (an early member of the Group of Seven) before spending time in both New York and Paris and travelling widely across Europe. A trip across the Alps by bicycle ended due a puncture but fortunately his cousin's chauffeur driven Bentley came to the rescue.

He later settled in West London and became immersed in the bohemian and artistic community he encountered on the Hammersmith-Chiswick borders by the river (not too far from the Chiswick saleroom). He lived next-door to the Irish painter Nora McGuinness (1901-1980) – a painting of her smoking sold for £480 at the sale – before later becoming a tutor at Colchester School of Art in 1949 and moving to Suffolk.

The artist does not have much of a presence at auction today with the few works that have emerged tending to sell for below £500.

Offered among the six works on April 22 though was a painting with a famous subject – Winston Churchill's funeral barge coming up to Festival Pier, an event the artist witnessed first-hand from the embankment on the north side of the Thames in January 1965.

The scene shows the vessel MV Havengore shortly after Churchill’s state funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral with the coffin draped in a union jack on deck as it made its’ way from Waterloo to its final resting place at St Martin’s Church, Bladon, close to Blenheim Palace.

The 2ft 6in x 4ft 2in (76cm x 1.27m) oil on canvas was naive in style but, with the artist having served in the navy and being a huge admirer of the wartime Prime Minister, it was an attempt to convey the sobriety of an historic moment.

The estimate was £600-800 but it was knocked down at £1000 to a UK private buyer, an auction record for Cronyn.

The price pipped the £950 bid for Cronyn’s portrait of his wife Jean from c.1948 that overshot a £400-600 estimate at the Chiswick sale and sold at £950.

Prints in demand

However, the two works by Cronyn that drew the most competition were both woodcuts estimated at just £80-120.

Cronyn learned the craft of wood engraving from another neighbour, the artist Gertrude Hermes, and the two examples here were both from 1939 and demonstrated his craftsmanship and ability to capture the scenery and atmosphere of his locality.

To some minds, these were the most desirable of his works on offer and bidders duly responded.

One depicted Black Lion Lane – an area with a pub and community which had something of a village feel about it before the nearby A4 dual carriageway was later constructed. The novelist, humourist and politician AP Herbert would hold court at the Black Lion every Sunday and it was through such gatherings that Cronyn met many other artists and writers.

The artist dwelt opposite the pub and was well acquainted with the landlord Arthur and his wife Florrie.

The woodcut depicted The Black Lion pub itself and surrounding houses – including the artist’s own studio at number 9A – and the ‘Bell Steps’ at the end of Hammersmith Terrace beyond. Measuring 6 x 7in (15 x 18cm) the unframed sheet drew strong bidding and was knocked down at £950 to a UK private buyer.

The following lot was a woodcut titled The Black Lion Skittle Alley which depicted what Cronyn described in his unpublished memoirs as the local skittle alley where he played frequently. It measured 5.5 x 7in (14 x 18cm) and sold for the same multi-estimate sum of £950 but to a different buyer.

Overall, the six lots generated £4940 with all the works finding buyers.

The auction house reported that over 450 bidders registered for the sale online and 88% of the 162 lots were sold for a total of more than £200,000 (including premium).