Offered at Bonhams (27.5/25/20/13.9% buyer’s premium) were two portrait sketches by society photographer Cecil Beaton (1904-80), who made his name taking pictures of the rich and famous.
The duo – an original of Coco Chanel and a portrait of Beaton himself – came from the property of interior designer Nicky Haslam and were dispersed in a near sell-out auction totalling over £300,000 in New Bond Street on November 20.
The 18 x 14in (46 x 36cm) pen and ink drawing of Chanel, depicted in an armchair holding a cigarette, was a known portrait, having been reproduced in Beaton’s 1954 book The Glass of Fashion. It had also sold at Christie’s back in 2004 where it made £2629 (with fees).
Offered at Bonhams with a £4000-6000 guide, the drawing proved remarkably popular on the day, selling for £40,000 (over £50,000 with premium) to an anonymous buyer on the phone.
The self-portrait, a 10 x 7in (24 x 18cm) pen and ink wash purchased by Haslam in 1983 and loaned to the Barbican for a Cecil Beaton exhibition three years later, sold to a phone bidder at £9500 (£2000-3000).
Like his photographic prints, Beaton’s sketches appear quite regularly at auction and include many of his costume designs for the productions of My Fair Lady and the 1969 Broadway musical Coco. On October 31, a Beaton sketch of Christian Dior working in his studio in Paris sold for £5200 (estimate £500-700) as part of the estate of society dress designer Ian Thomas (1929-93) at Amersham Auction Rooms in Buckinghamshire.
Another notable 20th century portrait at Bonhams was a 1920s work by Henry Brown (1864-1948) of the musical journalist Robert Hoare. Purchased by Haslam on account of the sitter’s likeness to his friend Lucy Ferry (who he later discovered was Hoare’s niece), it made £3500 (£1500-200).
A half-length portrait of Lady Armatrude Waechter de Grimston (b.1890) by Budapest-born ‘society’ artist Philip de László (1869- 1937) sold at Tennants (20% buyer’s premium) of Leyburn on November 16.
It had passed by descent from the sitter, who had been a landowner in East Yorkshire, patron of the Arts & Crafts movement and a notable beauty of the time.
After marriage to the elderly businessman Sir Max Leonard Waechter (1837-1924), she took the name Waechter de Grimston when inheriting the Grimston Garth estates in 1927.
The painting, of a similar date, had once been a little longer than its current 2ft 9in (84cm) but Lady de Grimston had objected to the way in which de László had painted her hands, so had the canvas cut to exclude them, including part of the dog on her lap. It is likely that the artist’s signature was cut away during this process.
The picture, sold online via thesaleroom.com for £18,000 (estimate £6000-8000), will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of portraits by the artist currently being compiled by the Hon Mrs de László.
Over the years, demand for evocative ‘society’ portraiture has extended beyond artists such as Gerald Brockhurst and Augustus John to include more obscure names from the Modern British canon. (Indeed, the London gallery Philip Mould announced last month that it will hold a retrospective of the work of Ambrose McEvoy (1877-1927), an “effervescent society portraitist whom art history had all but forgotten”.)
The Royal Academician Maurice Greiffenhagen (1862-1931) is probably better known for idyllic landscapes and travel posters rather than portraits.
His painting An Idyll – a depiction of a shepherd in a passionate embrace with a maid – inspired DH Lawrence’s novel the White Peacock, while his Carlisle, The Gateway to Scotland travel poster was one of the most popular commissioned by LMS Railways.
Nevertheless, a half-length portrait of Miss Sybil Waller, the only daughter of English designer and collector Pickford Waller, sold to a UK buyer for £8000, more than double hopes at Gloucestershire saleroom Chorley’s (20/15/12.5/10% buyer’s premium). It came from a local private estate in the Cotswolds and bore an old Royal Academy exhibition label for 1933.
Summing up the performance, Thomas Jenner-Fust, director, auctioneer and valuer at Chorley’s, said: “This picture had all the qualities needed to do well in today’s market – an attractive sitter, good condition and a sensible estimate.”
Waller, who inherited her father’s art collection when he died, sat for Greiffenhagen and other artists like the English portraitist Charles Shannon on a number of occasions.
A portrait of the Waller family painted by Greiffenhagen in 1901 and also shown at the same Royal Academy show in 1933 was offered at Sotheby’s in 2017 but failed to find a buyer with an estimate of £10,000-15,000.