Chief among the artists who painted such pictures is Andrew Beer (1862-1954), who received numerous commissions by proud racing pigeon owners during the late 19th and early 20th century to depict their prize-winning birds.
Covering mainly the area of Bristol and south Wales, Beer typically painted pigeons at near life-size in side-on view, either singly or in small groups and noting the bird’s name and achievements in text along the bottom.
These portraits used to sell for a couple of hundred pounds on the secondary market, but their decorative appeal has driven demand for a single portrait to around £500-1000.
Marc Fraser, senior valuer at Clevedon Salerooms (20% buyer’s premium) just outside Bristol, who has handled many pictures by Beer, said that it was possible the interior decorators were behind the rise in value “as these works cross over between naive art and the country-house look”.
The saleroom achieved its highest price for a pair of Beer portraits to date on November 22.
Commissioned by a single owner, the 11½ x 15in (29 x 39cm) oils were secured by a private collector for £5000, over seven times the top guide.
It comes eight months after the saleroom broke the £1000 barrier for the first time in March, for a pair of similar portraits that went on to sell for £2000.
Extra rounds of Beer
Two days before in Wotton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire, Wotton Auction Rooms (21% buyer’s premium) achieved £6200 for a job lot of three single portraits – a cost of around £2000 per picture.
Much rarer to auction are Beer’s group pigeon portraits. A triple portrait of three prize-winning racing pigeons was offered at nearby East Bristol Auctions (18% buyer’s premium) on November 30.
Guided at an attractive £250-400, the 17 x 23in (44 x 60cm) oil on canvas was knocked down at £4100, quite possibly a record for a single picture by the artist at auction. This is a two-fold increase in value over the last few years: in 2016, a similar triple portrait sold at Clevedon Salerooms for £2200.