1. Godward’s Poppies
John William Godward’s sumptuous 1898 oil on canvas Poppies came for sale at Lyon & Turnbull’s Five Centuries sale in Edinburgh on May 20 from the estate of Dr Helen EC Cargill Thompson (1933-2020).
A truly public-spirited Glaswegian who gave her collection of contemporary art to Strathclyde University and a contemporary silver collection to The Glasgow School of Art, the proceeds from the sale went toward an endowment fund at Strathclyde.
Cargill Thompson’s had owned this important Victorian picture for many years. Signed and dated ’98 it was painted by Godward – the High Victorian Dreamer – at the peak of his powers. It depicts the model Miss Ethel Warwick (who was 16 when she posed for this picture) dressed in classical attire and framed by marble columns against a meticulously painted backdrop of lavender and red poppies.
Attracting a range of international bidders against an estimate of £100,000-150,000, it was sold at £360,000.
Lyon & Turnbull specialist Nick Curnow commented: “It is an exquisite painting and has been much admired since it initially came in for sale. In very good condition, we are pleased it has found a new home with a UK-based private buyer.”
2. Algernon Newton’s Dorset landscape
Duke’s sale of property from Wormington Grange in Gloucestershire included a record for the Modern British painter Algernon Newton (1880-1968).
The artist’s monumental 6ft 8in x 8ft 10in (1.74 x 2.72m) A Dorset Landscape was on the market for the first time since it was bought in June 1928 at the Royal Academy.
Estimated at £60,000-100,000 at the sale in Dorchester on May 12-14, it sold at £225,000 to London dealer Daniel Katz, one of several phone bidders, against private and institutional interest.
Newton, the grandson of one of the founders of art paints manufacturer Winsor & Newton, enjoyed only a modest career and went largely unrecognised during his lifetime. The small loan exhibition The Peculiarity of Algernon Newton (1880-1968) held by Katz in 2012 had helped put the painter back on the map. Today his moody urban views are much admired for their unsettling sense of menace or foreboding.
In 1928 A Dorset Landscape was described by The Times as ‘the picture of the year’. It is a capriccio, or fantasy, and represents a distillation of what Dorset is famous for: Corfe Castle predominates, with an expanse of water representing Poole Harbour and chalk downland; a rural idyll evocative of Thomas Hardy’s novels. It is thought the painting was done as a paean to the novelist, who had died in January 1928.
At the RA, priced at £420, it was bought for Wormington – a neoclassical mansion near Broadway built in the 1770s by local architect Antony Keck – by Maud Clegg (1872-1933), American heiress and wife to General Lord Hastings Ismay (1887-1965).
3. William Daniell’s Indian scene
Drawing huge interest at Newbury saleroom Dreweatts on May 27, a painting of a young woman performing a ritual on the moonlit banks of the Ganges river by English artist William Daniell (1767-1837) was one of the highlights of the year in terms of 19th century art sales.
The 4ft 7in x 3ft 7in (1.4 x 1.08m) oil on canvas was one of the Indian scenes which are among the artist’s most famous and most commercial works.
Born in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, Daniell became an assistant to his uncle, the landscape painter Thomas Daniell (1749-1840), following the early death of his father. Aged 16, he accompanied his uncle to India to work on producing a series of prints. He remained there for 10 years until returning to England in 1794.
The sets of aquatints they produced on their return, published as a volume titled Oriental Scenery, were a great success as the British public lapped up these atmospheric views of the scenery and architecture of the subcontinent.
While copies of the prints appear quite frequently at auctions today, original drawings and sketches are rarer while larger and fully completed oil paintings (often produced later and based on his drawings) are rarer still and highly prized.
The large and moody picture in Newbury was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837, where its given title was The Hindoo Girl's Offering, and it came to Dreweatts from a UK private collector.
Estimated at £10,000-15,000, the auction house reported that it attracted “worldwide interest” and was eventually knocked down at £110,000.
4. Laura Knight nude study
A nude study by Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) found plenty of admirers when it appeared at Penzance saleroom David Lay on January 28.
Dating from c.1913, it depicts Ella Naper – the same sitter who appears in the artist’s most famous painting Self-portrait with nude which dates from around the same time and is now in the National Portrait Gallery. The auctioneer on the rostrum was Naper’s great-great niece Caroline Lay, who is art sale manager at the auction house.
The 22in x 2ft 5in (55 x 73cm) oil on canvas had remained with the sitter in Cornwall until she died in 1972. It came to auction having never left the family, although it had spent a period on loan at Penlee House Gallery in Penzance. David Lay had known the painting for many years and previously valued it for insurance.
Estimated at £60,000-80,000, it attracted plenty of online interest but, on the day, the bidding came down to a two-way battle between a private buyer and a ‘well-known public institution’.
It was eventually knocked down to the former at £105,000.
5. Mother’s portrait of her son
A portrait of a young boy in profile drew spectacular bidding at the sale held by Reeman Dansie of Colchester on January 26-27.
The 12.25 x 9.5in (31 x 24cm) oil painting had been in the same local family since at least the early 1950s, most likely longer, although its significance was seemingly unrealised.
It had some condition issues, including what appeared to be a tear caused prior to being relined and some scuffs, and was housed in an ornate parcel gilt and carved Florentine frame.
Catalogued as ‘18th century Italian School’ and estimated at £400-600, it drew a huge amount of attention with over 100 people watching the lot on the-saleroom.com. Sleeper spotters realised its similarity to a number of known portraits by Mary Beale (1633-99) of her son Bartholomew.
Two studies are on display at Tate Britain, while another sold for £75,000 at Sotheby's in July 2019, the auction record for the artist until the current sale. In appearance, age and costume, these sketches all depict Bartholomew similarly to how he is shown in Beale’s self-portrait with her family, a work painted in c.1659-60 which is now in London’s Museum of the Home (previously the Geffrye Museum).
Pre-sale bidding had already reached £20,000 before the lot was offered and, after strenuous competition with the bidding lasting four minutes, it was eventually knocked down at £100,000 to a buyer on the-saleroom.com. The price represented a new high for the artist at auction.
Director and auctioneer at Reeman Dansie Jonathan Benson, who was on the rostrum for the sale, said it was the highest price for a picture during his 15 years conducting auctions at the firm.