'A Very Gallant Gentleman' by John Charles Dollman
A sketch for the painting 'A Very Gallant Gentleman' by John Charles Dollman (1851-1934) – £23,000 at Sworders.

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Offered at the Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex sale on September 22-23, it sold to dealer bidding on behalf of a collector of Polar exploration memorabilia.

Measuring 23in x 3ft 4in (59 x 99cm) and executed in pen, ink and watercolour heightened with white, this depiction of Antarctic explorer Captain Lawrence Oates walking to his death in 1912 was created by Dollman for the finished painting which hangs in the Cavalry Club, London.

It was commissioned by officers of the Inniskilling Dragoons in 1913 – the year after news arrived of the doomed Terra Nova expedition– and shown at the Royal Academy that year.

Sworders’ sketch includes some notable compositional differences. In this work Oates is depicted holding ski poles, a feature dropped by the artist in the painting where Oates wears only mittens.

The work in Essex was offered at auction for the first time having been given to the Thompson family of Beacon House in Ditchling by Dollman’s daughter Ruth, who lived in the village until her death aged 90 in 1965.

The price fetched was the fourth highest for the artist at auction, but the highest for a work on paper (source: Artprice by Artmarket).

A smaller preparatory sketch for the work is in the Scott Polar Research Institute, at the University of Cambridge.

‘I may be some time’

Lawrence Edward Grace 'Titus' Oates (1880-1912) is remembered as a member of the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole, led by Captain Scott.

When, incapacitated by frostbite, gangrene and malnutrition, he became a liability to his party, he chose to walk out of his tent into a blizzard having uttered the celebrated words: ‘I am just going out and I may be some time.’

Scott recorded in his diary on March 15, 1912: ‘We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman.’

The remaining trio in Oates party struggled on for another 20 miles where their frozen bodies were eventually discovered by a search party on November 12, 1912. Oates’ body was never found although his reindeer-skin sleeping bag was recovered and is now at the Scott Polar Research Institute.

The buyer’s premium at Sworders was 25%.