1. White Star Line poster – £36,000
This 3ft 4in x 25in (1.01m x 63cm) White Star Line poster sold for £36,000 at Henry Aldridge & Son’s Transport Memorabilia sale in Devizes, Wiltshire on June 20. The rare poster features a rendition of the Olympic & Titanic ships in the runup to the official launch in 1911.
In the bottom left, the poster states that enquiries for ‘freight and passage’ should be made to Thomas Cook and Son, the venerable firm of travel agents that closed its doors in 2019.
This image was clearly a favourite of the White Star Line publicity department. The artwork by Montague Birrel Black (1884-1964) was used in a number of different promotional materials including postcards, menus, a second-class passenger list and on the cover of a 1911 souvenir edition of Shipbuilder.
Nonetheless, this is a rare poster, with only a few copies having been offered for auction over the past 25 years. Once the Titanic sank on April 15th, 1912, the White Star Line would have destroyed as many of these posters as they could.
2. Chinese export silver box – £14,000
A highpoint of Dreweatts ‘lockdown’ sale of Asian art in Newbury on June 17 was provided by this 19th century Chinese export silver gilt and enamelled box. Estimated at £600-800, it sold via thesaleroom.com £14,000.
The box depicts the auspicious scene of the Eight Taoist Immortals gathering in a garden against a lapis blue ‘shaolan’ ground and was almost certainly made for the Thai market.
It carries a 'wen yin' (cash silver) mark and another for the workshop of the Canton-based silversmith and retailer Hui Yuan that specialised in silver for the Siam trade. The box has a layer of copper sheet adding rigidity to the base – a common feature in Siamese silver that was adopted by Chinese silversmiths creating items for export. It was dated by Dreweatts cataloguer to c.1840-75.
3. Harry Becker painting – £8000
Harry Becker (1865-1928) is not well known outside East Anglia but he is much admired both for a skilled grasp of Impressionism and his choice of subject matter.
Born in Colchester in 1865 of German parents, he gained his artist’s education in Paris, at the Antwerp Royal Academy (Van Gogh had been there the year before) and at the Bushey School of Art under Hubert von Herkomer.
Much of his work is in the tradition of ‘peasant painting’. During the 13 years he lived in Suffolk from 1912, Becker made numerous records of working the land in the years before mechanisation.
This quite typical 8 x 10in (21 x 25cm) oil on canvas board sketch of two farmhand cutting grasses with a scythe is unsigned but carries a label from Ipswich Borough Council identifying Becker as the artist and the picture’s title as Fieldworkers in Mid-Summer. This particular brand of artist board (with a Clifford Milburn label) was used by Becker on other oils.
The work came for sale at Bellmans in West Sussex on June 17 with an estimate of just £200-300. It did rather better in selling for £8000.
4. Agnes Miller Parker’s black cat – £5600
Ayrshire-born Agnes Miller Parker (1895-1980) is best known as a book illustrator, producing wood engravings for a range of private press books including many in the 1930s for the Gregynog Press. Like her husband William McCance, she had trained at the Glasgow School of Art, but after 1918 lived in London and southern Britain for much of her career.
Her earliest work reflects the influence of the short-lived Vorticist group and is discernible in this tempera study of a black cat causing havoc among a still life of books, flowers and a pair of spectacles.
Signed and dated 1930 and measuring 21 x 19in (52 x 48cm), it is one of a number of feline works Parker produced around this time: better known are the engravings Catte and Chyken (1931), The Challenge (1934) and Coquette (1934).
It came for sale at Framlingham firm Clarke & Simpson on June 20. The estimate of £100-200 reflected the artist’s relatively modest auction track record (although a number of prints have brought over £1000). However, bidding at the Suffolk sale for this larger painting reached £5600.
5. Maltese painting of Catholic martyr – £5200
Estimated at £200-400 but sold for £5200 at Pilton Auctions in Barnstable on June 19 was this late 19th century martyrdom scene titled to the frame The Blessed Sir Adrian Fortescue Knight of the Bath, Knight of St John of Malta (1476-1539). Key to its appeal is the inscription to the back of the canvas G Cali Malta.
Giuseppe Cali (1846-1930), born in Valletta of Neapolitan parents, is one of Malta’s best-known artists.
Although nicknamed ix-xitan tal-pinzell (the devil with a brush), he was a prolific painter of religious scenes and almost every church in Malta has at least one of the estimated 2000-plus works he completed in his lifetime. Around 50 Cali portraits of island dignitaries are known.
Adrian Fortescue, a courtier to Henry VIII who was executed without trial for his opposition to the English Reformation, is a subject of particular resonance to the Maltese. In 1532, seven years before he was beheaded at Tower Hill, he had become a Knight of the Order of St John – the rulers of Malta from 1530 to 1798). The Order has advocated devotion to ‘Blessed Adrian’ as a Catholic martyr since the 17th century.
6. Psychedelic posters – £4500
The artist John Hurford (b.1948) was a key figure in the British psychedelia movement of the late 1960s. His drawings, typically in pen and ink enlivened by brilliant washes of colour, were reproduced in the leading counter-culture publications of the day.
Pictured here is perhaps his best-known work that was used as a poster to promote the second public rally for the legalisation of marijuana in London's Hyde Park on July 7, 1968. The designer was Martin Sharp, co-founder of Oz magazine that included it as a pull-out in its June 1968 edition.
The Show Your Head poster was printed in different colour variations: offered for sale as a single lot at Bellmans in West Sussex on June 17 were seven copies, five with purple text and two with orange text. These have become a lot more desirable than a £80-120 estimate suggested. Bidding reached £4500.