At Cheffins (22.5% buyer’s premium) of Cambridge on January 25, a student work by Evelyn Dunbar (1906-60), the only officially commissioned female war artist of the Second World War, soared to a sale-topping £19,000.
The price of the work, discussed and pictured in ATG No 2327, shows the remarkable rise of a painter whose secondary market was practically non-existent six years ago.
“We are finding here in Cambridge that women artists of the 20th century is an area people are really collecting,” said Sarah Flynn, picture specialist at Cheffins.
Another female artist to draw interest in the picture section was Grace Henry (1868-1953), the Scottish wife of famous Irish painter Paul Henry (1877-1958).
Despite playing second fiddle to her husband (both during her lifetime and on the secondary market), Henry has grown in popularity since her work was re-examined some three decades ago. Some consider her to be a much bolder painter than Paul, incorporating more elements of the modernist movement.
Depicting sailing boats on an Irish river in a bluish haze, the 19in x 2ft 3in (49 x 69cm) oil on canvas on offer at Cheffins came from a private collection in Suffolk. It sold comfortably above the £1000-1500 guide for £4400 to a Dublin buyer.
Men at work
While these results stood out, male painters made up much of the material on offer at Cheffins, achieving some noteworthy results of their own. These included a trio of Simon Palmer’s (b.1956) quirky surrealist watercolours, acquired by the vendor in the 1980s.
Leading the group at £6500 against a £4000-6000 guide was The Spinster with a Large Family, a 17 x 13in (43 x 34cm) ink, watercolour and gouache of a figure walking along a street accompanied by several dogs.
The other two watercolours – The Flower from the Alien Seed and The Guest House Versus the Bed and Breakfast – sold within estimates for £4800 and £3600 respectively.
All three were purchased by different private buyers. “He’s one to collect,” said Flynn.
Muncaster maritime interest
Another clean sweep came for a local consignment of six paintings by Claude Muncaster (1903-74), the topographical and marine artist who travelled the world by boat and served as a naval camouflage specialist in the Second World War.
The undoubted star was a large 2ft 10in x 3ft 4in (86cm x 1.02m) detailed depiction of Mousehole harbour in Cornwall at low tide which had been loaned to the City of Bradford Art Gallery. It took £5000 against a £2000-4000 estimate.
Elsewhere, a work always bound to do well was a drawing by John Piper (1903-92) of the interior of a baroque church.
The 12 x 9in (31 x 22cm) ink, pencil, pastel and wash dates to the early 1960s and is believed to form part of a body of work Piper executed in Rome. It tipped over the top estimate to sell for £5500.