Holliday, a farmer’s wife from north Cumbria, immersed herself in the British art scene from the 1960s onwards, befriending and corresponding with a group of noted painters and sculptors. She bought direct from artists themselves and made regular trips to auctions in the provinces and London (where the family owned a pied-à-terre overlooking the Chelsea Arts Club).
The majority of the 570 lots – including Georgian and Victorian furniture and chattels plus jewellery – came from The Gale, a Victorian house Holliday shared with her husband and children in the hamlet of Highlaws, a stone’s throw from the Solway coast in northern Cumbria.
Olwyn Bowey (b.1936) emerged as a star performer in the £541,200 sale in Stansted Mountfitchet on January 15, with more than 20 drawings, watercolours and oils by the Stockton-on-Tees painter included in the collection. Holliday got to know Bowey when the artist was a relative unknown, sharing a love of the garden.
Dedicated to the tradition of the artist-plantsman, Bowey works mostly in her greenhouse, which doubles as a studio.
Together the group made just over £34,000 with two typical large-scale ‘greenhouse’ oils selling above estimates to set new price levels for Bowey on the secondary market. The previous high for the artist was Fig Tree, sold by Bonhams in London in December last year for £4000.
Here at Sworders, StandardMarguerite (2007), sold with an accompanying letter from the artist and shown at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition in 2007, made £6200 and went to a private buyer from Cheshire on thesaleroom.com. It was estimated at £1000-1500.
Myrtle’s Hanging Baskets, a 3ft 1in (94cm) square oil on board shown at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition in 1990, surpassed this sum in selling to a London private buyer at £7400 against a £700-1000 guide (pictured in ATG No 2376).
Friend of Fell
A total of nine works by Holliday’s close friend, Cumbrian painter Sheila Fell (1931-79), racked up the largest contribution by a single artist at £80,300. The pair had met in the late 1960s when Fell was already a significant talent, having been given her first solo show, aged 24, at the Beaux Arts Gallery in London’s Bond Street in 1955 and soon afterwards joined the teaching staff of Chelsea School of Art.
The 1965 oil Allonby, Approaching High Tide, a 21in x 2ft 2in (53 x 63cm) oil on canvas of swirling sea and sky, led the group at £19,500. The coastal work had been conservatively estimated at £8000-12,000.
Another painting of Allonby, similar in size and bought directly from the artist, sold at Mitchells of Cockermouth in September 2016 for £21,000.
Fell’s 20in x 2ft (51 x 61cm) oil on canvas, Mungrisdale, Lake District, came in second at £12,000, doubling its top guide. Both pictures, along with others from the group, had formed part of the 1989 exhibition Through Women’s Eyes at the Castlegate House Gallery in Cumbria.
Leading the Sworders sale was Mary Fedden’s (1915-2012)Garden Bunch still-life of flowers and a piece of fruit, a signed 20 x 2ft (51 x 61cm) oil on canvas, dated 1988. It is typical of Fedden’s most commercial works, executed in a bold style with vivid, contrasting colours.
The catalogue front-cover lot had a label for the New Grafton Gallery and sold to the London trade at £31,000, over four times the top estimate.
A watercolour titled Exotic Fruits and Orchids, dated 1992, was the sole entry by Scottish artist Elizabeth Blackadder (b.1931). Guided at £3500-5000, the 21in x 2ft 5in (55.5 x 75cm) signed still-life exemplified the artist’s meditations on the space between objects. It sold for £13,000 to a private buyer in France.
Among the sculpture, a small 4in (10cm) high Elisabeth Frink (1930-93) bronze of a golden eagle, signed and conceived in 1978 from an edition of nine, took £14,500 from a London-based private buyer on thesaleroom.com. Frink did several variations on the bird of prey throughout her career, executed in both sculpture and on paper.
A small 6 x 5in (16 x 12cm) self-portrait in oil by Scottish figurative artist Alison Watt (b.1965) was guided in the sale at £3000-5000. Purchased from the artist in 1996, it sold with an accompanying letter from Watt to Holliday for £7400.
Leading the contingent of work by male Mod Brit painters was Carel Weight (1908-97), who was Olwyn Bowey’s tutor during her years at the Royal College of Art. A total of 18 lots – a mixture of pencil drawings and paintings – sold to total £32,830.
Weight was a close friend of Holliday, making long trips to The Gale to paint as well as guide her collecting. In return, Holliday was instrumental in arranging a major exhibition for the artist at Abbott Hall in Kendall in 1986.
The large 23½in x 2ft (60 x 61cm) oil Figures in a Garden, guided at £1200-1800, was the top-seller at £4100. It was followed closely by The Blue Umbrella, a smaller suburban street scene bought for £4000. Both pictures were sold to London-based private buyers.
Eduardo Paolozzi’s (1924- 2005) 16in (39cm) bronze bust of the American jazz pianist and bandleader Count Basie – one of just three casts made in 1987 and the only example likely to come to market – sold on bottom estimate to a local private buyer at £15,000.
The artist’s earlier collage Dowicide, dated 1952, sold towards its upper guide at £9200 to a London-based private buyer.
New homes were also found for works by official war artists Anthony Gross (1905-84) and John Nash (1893-1977), artist-plantsman Cedric Morris (1889-1982) and avant-garde draughtsman William Roberts (1895-1980). n