In 1974, he started collecting ‘en plein air’ pictures by the Cornish art colony known as the Newlyn School as a way to fill his large and sparse house on nearby rugged Bodmin Moor.
“Farming on the moor was far from profitable and there was never any spare cash, but when I came into a small windfall, I decided that the time had come to start filling those empty spaces,” he wrote recently.
More than 50 lots from the collection he started almost half a century ago were offered at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood (21% buyer’s premium) in Exeter on October 9.
With heavy emphasis on the Newlyn paintings and drawings of the later Pre-Raphaelite Thomas Cooper Gotch (1854-1931), an artist he opined “stood head and shoulders above all the rest”, Hanbury-Tenison also consigned works by other Newlyn pioneers including Walter Langley and Lamorna Birch.
With estimates ranging from £50-15,000 (some bullish in places), the group totalled just over £62,000 – a fair result in what has become a temperamental market for Newlyn School artists in recent years.
Although some lots were left unsold, including a Walter Langley oil set at a punchy £10,000-15,000, bidding was generally solid with most interest coming from private buyers.
Dan Goddard, head of the pictures department at BHL, said: “The market has spiked, and you wouldn’t have to argue too hard that some of these pictures may have been worth a little bit more over the last 10 or 20 years.
"But the connection with where the collection had come from, and Robin being well-known, meant there was quite a bit of momentum coming into the sale and I think that helped a lot.”
Strong and striking portraiture provided some noteworthy entries. Among them was Gotch’s portrait of his granddaughter Patricia, painted on a 2ft 2in x 18in (66 x 45cm) oil on canvas and shown holding an iris.
Acquired from the art dealer Christopher Wood in 1977, it sold to a private buyer in Newlyn itself just below estimate at £5700.
Another portrait from the group was Harold Knight’s (1874-1961)The Turquoise Dress. Depicting a young seated woman in a silk dress, the 2ft x 20in (61 x 51cm) oil on canvas sold to a private buyer in Sussex towards its lower guide at £9000.
Beating its estimate was a fine self-portrait by French painter Jean Paul Laurens (1838-1921), who taught several Newlyn painters including Knight and Gotch. Inscribed ‘to my former pupil TC Gotch’ in French by the artist, the 16½ x 12½in (42 x 32cm) oil on canvas nearly doubled its guide to sell for £1750.
The top-selling Gotch was his beguiling Monseigneur Love, described by the painter as his “first picture”. The 2ft 7in x 3ft 3in (79 x 99cm) oil on canvas of a young couple, the woman with her hand on an arrow, was worked on from January-March 1880.
In her 2004 biography The Golden Dream, Pamela Lomax wrote about the picture’s ambiguous symbolism, saying: “If the woman plucks the arrow from the quiver the presumption is that she has chosen to be smitten. If she plucks the arrow from her breast then presumably the young man has chosen to wound her.”
The painting was knocked down for £7000 to a buyer in Italy against optimistic hopes of £8000-12,000.
Outside this collection at BHL, three-mixed media sketches catalogued as by ‘After Sir Joshua Reynolds [19th century]’ soared to £8000 against a £400-600 guide, suggesting a closer connection to the artist or an earlier date than was perhaps originally thought. The trio sold to a London buyer.
Eager bidding emerged for two inter-war landscapes by Stanley Royle (1888-1961). The pair, depicting post-impressionist views of summer and winter, sold for multiples of their guides at £3000 and £4300 respectively.