William Nicholson still life

Flowers and Books (for Siegfried Sassoon) by Sir William Nicholson – £440,000 at Woolley & Wallis.

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1. William Nicholson still-life – £440,000

An elegant Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949) still-life achieved the second-highest price for the artist at auction when it sold for £440,000 at Woolley & Wallis in Salisbury on May 31.

It had been estimated at £50,000-70,000  

As indicated by the title Flowers and Books (for Siegfried Sassoon), this 16 x 12in (40 x 29cm) oil on canvas board was painted in 1929 for the war poet. Nicholson and Sassoon had first met in 1918, through another famous war poet, Robert Graves, who had married Nicholson’s daughter Nancy. The following year Nicholson designed labels for The War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon, and the two struck up a long-term friendship and working relationship.

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2. David Bomberg view of Petra – £390,000

Petra by David Bomberg

Rock Façade, North-East Wall, Petra by David Bomberg – £390,000 at Dreweatts.

Part of a collection of 14 paintings by David Bomberg (1890-1957) offered at Dreweatts in Newbury on October 19, a painting of the archaeological site of Petra in Jordan drew hefty levels of competition.

The picture was made on Bomberg’s 1923-24 trip to the Middle East and was painted on the spot rather than being worked up from sketches. It showed a precisely handled view of the ancient city hewn in situ from rock.

It found considerable appeal against a £150,000-250,000 estimate and sold at £390,000 to a UK private buyer, the highest price for the artist at any auction outside the capital.

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3. La Thangue exhibition work – £180,000

In a Ligurian Garden by Herbert Henry La Thangue

In a Ligurian Garden by Herbert Henry La Thangue – £180,000 at Tennants.

A previously missing exhibition work by the British Impressionist Henry Herbert La Thangue (1859-1929) drew strong demand when it emerged at Tennants in North Yorkshire.

In a Ligurian Garden was previously known only from a contemporaneous illustration but came to the Leyburn firm’s sale on July 16 from the family of Sir William Prince-Smith (1898-1964), a manufacturer of textile machinery from Keighley in the West Yorkshire.

Views of Liguria are a regular feature in the artist’s oeuvre and this one was mentioned in a letter penned by La Thangue not long before his death in December 1929. He recalled painting it in ‘1907 or 1908 in one of the villages along the coast’.

The picture, he said, had been shown at the Royal Academy in 1908 with a companion piece, a different view of the same girl titled Ligurian Flowers.

Estimated at £70,000-100,000, it sold for £180,000.

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4. Stanhope Forbes harbour scene – £155,000

Soldiers and Sailors by Stanhope Forbes

Soldiers and Sailors by Stanhope Forbes – £155,000 at David Lay.

A large-scale painting by Stanhope Forbes (1857-1947) depicting Salvation Army members in full song on the banks of a harbour drew interest at David Lay in Penzance on February 10.

Soldiers and Sailors, a 4ft 11in x 6ft 3in (1.5 x 1.9m) oil on canvas had been exhibited at The Royal Academy in 1891 and came to auction from a family that had acquired it privately in 1982. It had earlier provenance to the mine owner and art collector George McCulloch, who paid £900 for it shortly after it was completed.

While large scale and important pictures by Forbes, often described as the ‘father’ of the Newlyn School of artists, are now exceedingly rare on the market, this one had a few condition issues that may have affected demand.

Even still, against a £120,000-180,000 estimate, it sold at £155,000.

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5. John Bellany portrait – £80,000

The Finnon Smoker by John Bellany

The Finnon Smoker by John Bellany – £80,000 at McTear’s.

One of John Bellany’s (1942-2013) youthful ‘railing paintings’ made a high sum at McTear’s in Glasgow on May 29.

These stylistically distinct works are much rarer at auction than his other more abstract compositions. They refer to the paintings made in his early 20s that were part of the protest exhibitions that he and fellow art student Alexander Moffat staged outside the Scottish National Gallery and Royal Scottish Academy during the Edinburgh festivals from 1963-5. They nailed their pictures to the railings.

Titled The Finnon Smoker, this example retained its original nail holes (with the nails showing through in places). With a strong interest on the day, it surpassed a £10,000-15,000 estimate and was knocked down at £80,000, the second highest auction price for Bellany.

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