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Art market

LOCATION, location, location. When it comes to assembling a picture sale, it helps to draw upon home-grown talent.

Mitchells (20% buyer’s premium), based in the ancient market town of Cockermouth in Cumbria, is one such auction house that benefits from its location in an area with a rich artistic heritage.

“We’ve had modern local artists who have done well, and they have been very helpful to us when other more traditional things have begun to fall away, ” says Mark Wise, Mitchells’ director.

In the auction house’s latest antiques and pictures sale on December 1, it was ‘local heroes’ who once again came out on top, providing healthy sums to the bottom line.

Among the most renowned artists offered regularly at Mitchells is the Aspatria-born Sheila Fell (1931-79), famously regarded by LS Lowry as the best landscape painter of her generation.

The December sale included one Fell canvas, a heavy impasto oil from 1968. Country Road with Horse and Cart was bought from an art gallery in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the late 1960s and had not appeared on the open market since.

It came from a local family who had consigned a handful of other Fell pictures to Mitchells in the past, including the record £38,000 canvas Houses in Winter, Cumberland in March 2011.

Described by Wise as “more of an academic picture than one with universal appeal”, Country Road with Horse and Cart was given a cautious £7000-10,000 estimate.

A high commission bid on the book and a determined private phone bidder pushed the sum well beyond the guide to £16,000, where it was hammered down to the latter.

The buyer, who is new to Wise, appears to be part of a fresh group of

private collectors who have entered the Fell market. Their arrival is well timed, says Wise, who says the small pool of established Fell collectors have become “increasingly discerning”.

Reclusive talent

Another local artist to feature at Mitchells was Fell’s near-contemporary Percy Kelly (1918-93).

Inspired by the dramatic landscape and coast of the Lake District, Kelly produced many works, mainly in muted colours, charcoal and watercolour. His refusal to sell many of his pictures ensured minimal dealings with the art world and he died a virtual recluse.

Since his death, however, exhibitions in London and Cumbria have brought wider recognition and value to his paintings.

At Mitchells, the financial highlight was The White House, a 4ft 2in x 5ft 10in (1.27 x 1.78m) charcoal and watercolour.

Part of a large local consignment of pictures, it bore a label for the Castlegate House Gallery in Cockermouth. The work more than doubled its top guide to sell at £5200 to a local buyer.

Opposites attract

If Kelly had an opposite, it would have been fellow Lake District painter Edward H Thompson(1879-1949). Unlike Kelly, Thompson did not have any qualms about selling his work and is rumoured to have created some 10,000 pictures. An alcoholic, he swapped his paintings for money to fund his addiction, sometimes working from half-a-dozen easels at a time.

Despite the frequency in which his art appears on the market, he has a strong local following. “Thompson’s pictures have held up well. They are like local currency around here, people understand them and they usually make between £700 to £2000, ” says Wise.

A dozen watercolours consigned to the sale from a single collection attracted this local interest. The highlight was a sweeping landscape view of the Great Gable and Sty head from Scafell.

The signed 8 x 10½in (21 x 27cm) work sold just over top estimate for £1250 to a local buyer.