Following Cheffins’ Cambridgeshire County Council consignment last month, which totalled £121,000 from just 45 lots (see ATG No 2294), Woolley & Wallis and Mallams were the latest to demonstrate the sector’s strength.
Such results are also proof that the London salerooms are not the only places attracting a steady stream of quality Mod Brit material.
At Woolley & Wallis’ (22% buyer’s premium) Modern British & 20th Century Art sale on June 7, nearly a dozen lots sold for over £10,000, some for considerably more, helping to boost the Salisbury saleroom to its highest total for a picture sale in at least a decade.
Bolstered by the stellar Mod Brit collection of works amassed by the late Keith Allison (1925-2016), as well as an anonymous fresh-to-market assemblage, the sale totalled more than £800,000 from just over 400 lots, with a sell-through rate of 81%.
But it wasn’t just at the top end where demand was strong, said Victor Fauvelle, head of W&W’s picture department. “What was interesting about this sale was the strength of the £500-5000 market. People were going for these pictures in a big way.”
Examples included a Fred Yates (1922-2008) oil, which doubled its guide to sell at £4400; a pair of oils by Rebecca Lardner (b.1971) at £1300 (£200-300 estimate); and a multi-estimate £550 for a puffin picture by the largely unknown artist Sam Dodd (20th-21st centuries).
All this took place against the backdrop of the snap general election (and the uncertainty that entails) which followed a day later, but ultimately it had little bearing on this result. The 16-lot Allison collection, featuring sought-after works by John Minton, Keith Vaughan and Christopher Wood set at conservative estimate levels, totalled around £280,000. All bar one lot got away.
“He was buying in the 1960s, ‘70s and later, when these artists were known but not the household names they have become today, and the Mod Brit market was a far more formative area,” said Fauvelle.
Allison founded the firm of London solicitors Allison and Humphries with his colleague Charles Humphries. When he retired around 20 years ago to the Wylye Valley in Wiltshire, he met W&W chairman Paul Viney after asking the auctioneers to carry out an insurance valuation.
The sale’s top lot was Sunbather (1948), a bright beach scene by Keith Vaughan (1912-77), which sold to a private buyer for £120,000 against a £30,000-50,000 guide.
The 20in x 2ft 6in (50 x 76cm) oil on canvas dates to a key period when the artist began to paint more male figures in his work and develop his technique away from the influence of Graham Sutherland and towards Swiss-German painter Paul Klee and the Cubists.
While examples of Vaughan’s 1950s works have made more, the sum fetched was among the strongest for a picture from this period.
John Minton (1917-57), who for a time shared a studio with Vaughan, was represented in the sale by three of his celebrated ‘Jamaican’ works. An oil, which Alison had spent £60 on after spotting it in a 'dingy' corner at Sotheby’s in 1967, and two watercolours all related to the artist’s trip to the Caribbean in the summer of 1950.
Vaughan produced sketches depicting life on the island which he then used as the basis for a series of oils he painted back in his north London studio. These works are the most sought-after in the artist’s oeuvre, and prices over the last year have leaped, with two canvases breaking the six-figure barrier.
Tropical Fruits, a 3ft 4in x 4ft 2in (1 x 1.27m) oil on canvas dated 1951, was the most expensive of the trio, ticking the boxes with its rich colours, exotic lighting and large size. Estimated at £40,000-60,000, it was taken over the top end of its estimate and knocked down to a private buyer on the phone at £85,000.
The pair of Minton’s Jamaican watercolours, likely to have been painted in situ, sold above guides to make £9000 and £7000 respectively.
A rare opportunity to acquire a fresh-to-market watercolour by Paul Nash (1889-1946), recently the subject of a major exhibition at the Tate, came in the form of a 15 x 21½in (37 x 55cm) work titled Derrickat Orford. The watercolour over pencil dated to 1930 and had last sold at auction in 1976. It depicts a crane by the River Ore in Suffolk.
Nash photographed the same spot with the derrick and oil drums stacked up beside it in 1930, a negative of which now resides in the Tate Archive. Although a little faded, the watercolour doubled its top estimate to sell at £14,000.
Elsewhere in the Allison collection, two oils by Christopher Wood (1901-30), a Mediterranean scene and landscape of Vence in France, fetched a mid-estimate £20,000 and £14,000 respectively.
A private collection of art, assembled around half a decade ago, made up 26 further lots in the sale.
Overshooting a £2000-3000 guide to sell to the trade for £15,000, a portrait by English painter Gerald Brockhurst (1890-1978) featured his first wife Anaïs Folin. Tête Basque, a small 8 x 5½in (21 x 14cm) pen and ink work, was created in 1924 and had been acquired from The Fine Art Society in London in 1970.
Celebrated as a portraitist during the 1930s-‘40s, painting society figures such as Marlene Dietrich and the Duchess of Windsor, he also produced small etched prints of idealised women – many of them modelled by Folin and his second wife Kathleen Woodward, known as Dorette.
According to the Art Sales Index, Brockhurst’s most expensive work on paper is of Dietrich, which sold for a premium-inclusive £67,250 at Sotheby’s in 2008.
The same collection also yielded an above-estimate £60,000 from a Scottish buyer for a small early oil on panel by JD Fergusson (1874-1961).
L’avenue de L’Observatoire (1906) had been in the same family for at least half a century, having been gifted in 1965 to the vendor’s family by Dorothy Young, the widow of the vendor’s grandfather.
It dates to the Scottish Colourist’s formative years in Paris. “This was a formative and spontaneous work by the artist, and looked almost like it had been painted yesterday,” said Fauvelle.
Outside this collection, The Sacred Snake, an Indian mixed media canvas by the popular Indian artist Ganesh Pyne (1937-2013), sold for a multi-estimate £28,000 to the London trade. It had been in the same private collection since at least 1968.
And Scottish artist Craigie Aitchison’s (1926-2009) popularity continues to rise with a Crucifixion work from 1984 selling for £30,000 against a £15,000-20,000 guide.