In May last year, a painting called Joseph’s Dream by the relatively obscure artist Evelyn Dunbar (1906-60) shot to a remarkable £60,000 at Cambridge saleroom Cheffins.
The dramatic price signalled an upsurge in demand not only for Dunbar’s work but for other lesser-known female war artists – green shoots of which had been growing for some years.
Cheffins (22.5% buyer’s premium) has found itself at the centre of this emerging market, and on May 10 offered the work of another female war artist, Barbara Jones (1912-78).
“Jones is becoming increasingly popular as one of the better 20th century artists and fits with the group of women war artists, like Dunbar, who are now experiencing a burgeoning market for their work,” said Brett Tryner, associate at Cheffins.
He partly puts this down to the amount of academic research that has been done in the last five or six years, and also because galleries are now ensuring that they have proper representation across the UK.
Jones results balloon
Two well-preserved works on paper by Jones were offered; Hot Air Balloon, a 20½ x 16in (52 x 40cm) watercolour, and Tea Shop, a 6 x 8in (15 x 20cm) pen and ink work.
Both had come from a local collector with provenance to Neil Jennings Fine Art. The undated pair sold to a trade buyer for nearly five times the top guide at £2400 – albeit a less dramatic sum than the Dunbar.
Jones, who has a scant auction record with few paintings offered on the secondary market in the past, is largely considered to have excelled in a different medium.
Trained in mural decoration at the Royal College of Art, she created murals for the 1951 Festival of Britain exhibition among others, and several for P&O’s passenger liner ships.
Most of her works, because of the nature of where they were created, have now disappeared.
Nicholson makes top price
Elsewhere at Cheffins, there was evidence of the strength in the Mod Brit market for established female stalwart Winifred Nicholson (1893-1981).
She generated the biggest price of the day with White Chrysanthemum, a 2ft (61cm) square oil still-life from c.1971.
It came with good provenance and had passed by descent from the original purchasers, painter Michael Chase and his wife, Valerie Thornton, who had been close friends of the artist.
The painting had also appeared in an exhibition catalogue of the artist’s paintings at London’s Crane Kalman Gallery in 1972.
These reasons, coupled to the fact that many of Nicholson’s works are still in well-established collections so do not appear often on the market, ensured it got away comfortably above its £20,000-25,000 guide at £44,000 to a UK collector.
Pictures with a strong Mod Brit ‘look’ but without the trademark name – or indeed any name at all – can also be valuable commodities in this field.
This was the case for a slightly dirty 13 x 17in (33 x 43cm) oil on board by an anonymous artist, catalogued as ‘Modern British School’, which tickled the tastebuds of several bidders.
Titled Cyder, a Poem, this landscape of a rural idyll was consigned from Cambridge Council and came with little information.
Pre-sale interest materialised into bids on the day and it was knocked down to a local collector at £3400 – more than 11 times its top guide.
Among the established names holding their value is the prolific English painter Ken Howard (b.1932).
The Cheffins sale featured two works. A 3ft x 2ft 5in (91 x 75cm) trademark studio interior of a nude on a bed in Mousehole, Cornwall, sold within estimate at £8000.
A smaller 14 x 18in (35 x 45cm) oil on canvas from 1958 of a Tuscan hill town, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 2002-03, which sold for £2000 against a £600-800 guide.
The auction also featured a craggy mountain view by the famous Welsh impasto painter, Kyffin Williams (1918-2006), whose centenary is being celebrated this year.
The 2ft x 2ft 5in (60 x 74cm) oil on canvas had not been on the market since being acquired from the artist in May 1973. It sold towards the upper guide at £14,000 to a UK trade buyer.