The small collection of unframed oils and mixed-media works was painted by Rose Henriques (1889-1972), who took as her subject the daily lives of ordinary people and cityscapes around London’s East End.
The works were found in an attic owned by an acquaintance of Henriques and taken to East Sussex saleroom Burstow & Hewett (20% buyer’s premium) in Battle, East Sussex. Offered across eight lots on May 23, every picture sold against estimates set in the low hundreds to total just over £30,000.
While a number of works exist in public collections including the Museum of London, the Jewish Museum of London and Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, where a large retrospective of her paintings was held in 2013, these were among the first to appear at auction.
“Her track record before this sale was almost nothing – I think the maximum a work of hers had ever made was £100,” said specialist Mark Ellin of Burstow & Hewett. “In terms of subject matter, these were much more interesting compared to what had sold before, which showed in the prices they achieved.”
Henriques painted across three turbulent decades: from the Depression years of the 1930s, through the Second World War and the early post-war reconstruction.
The majority of subjects focused on the area where she lived in the former Metropolitan Borough of Stepney, which stretched from Whitechapel to Mile End and Limehouse. A number were shown from the 1930s-60s at the Whitechapel Gallery, where Henriques served on the board and held two solo exhibitions.
As well as painting, she immersed herself in the local community, promoting the works of musicians and other artists. Earlier, in the First World War, she served as a nurse at Liverpool Street Station, and after it ended founded The St George’s Settlement Synagogue in Stepney with her husband Basil, who later received a knighthood.
Her humanitarian endeavours continued into the Second World War as an ambulance driver in Westminster. When peace came to Europe in 1945, Henriques made the trip to Germany where she worked alongside a number of Jewish welfare groups at the former Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and then at the nearby displaced persons camp.
Her work in Germany was formally recognised just last month when the British government posthumously awarded her the British Hero of the Holocaust award, which is given to British citizens who assisted in rescuing victims of the Holocaust.
Her track record before this sale was almost nothing – I think the maximum work of hers had ever made was £100
At Burstow & Hewett, the most dramatic of the picture group in terms of price and subject was the work titled There Goes Another, At Flying Bomb Incident. The 20in x 2ft (51 x 61cm) oil on canvas depicts powerful searchlights and figures convening around a bomb site.
Stamped to the verso with an address for the synagogue established by the Henriques on Berner Street (it was later renamed Henriques Street in honour of the couple), it was knocked down to a bidder on thesaleroom.com for £12,000, underbid by a north London gallery. It was estimated at £100-200.
The online bidder also secured the second most expensive lot of the consignment: a 20in x 2ft (51 x 61cm) oil on canvas dated 1941 of a group of figures on board a ship for £6000.
The remaining lots were won by the London gallery, including a view of Spitalfields at £5200. Two watercolour works offered together, one depicting bomb damaged buildings with the distinctive dome of St Paul’s in the distance, took £2000 against a £50-100 estimate.