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Bevan, who had spent his childhood in rural Sussex, felt a natural affinity with the equestrian life of the capital, using simple and bold areas of contrasting colour, angular shapes and sharp form to convey his subjects.

Four of these paintings formed the basis of a series of lithographs made between 1919-21, which have since become the most celebrated of Bevan’s prints and are known today as the ‘Horse Dealers Set’.

Two lithographs from the series – Horse Dealers (1919) and The Horse Mart (1920) – together with another horse subject of the period by Bevan, were eagerly contested when they appeared in a Design and Modern Art sale at Mallams (22.5% buyer’s premium) in Oxford on May 23-24. Guided at £1000-2000 each, the trio were knocked down for a combined sum of £16,800.

Big dealers

The lion’s share came from Horse Dealers, a 12 x 15in (30 x 39cm) lithograph from an edition of 80 based on a painting of 1918 now in the collection of Manchester City Art Gallery. It shows Ward’s Repository off Edgware Road where working horses were sold.

The first and most sought-after of the Horse Dealers Set, this example was bid to £11,000. The Horse Mart, made in a reduced edition of 65, took £3800.

Crocks, the third lithograph offered at Mallams, was based on the subject in an oil painting of 1922, which sold in London at Christie’s in 2005 for £321,600 (with fees). That remains the second-highest price for the artist at auction behind Under The Hammer, another equine-themed painting that sold three years later in the same rooms for £421,250 (with fees).

The Mallams lithograph was knocked down at £2000. Crocks is the only print of a cab-yard scene and proved to be Bevan’s last lithograph. He saw proofs of it before he died, and his son supervised the printing of the edition, which ran to 40.

In all, around £250,000 changed hands from nearly 700 lots in the sale at Mallams, with a robust 85% getting away.

Clatworthy bronze

Another equine-themed lot – a Robert Clatworthy (1928-2015) bronze titled Horse and Rider – sold for a multi-estimate £4400.

A limited-edition bronze by Michael Ayrton (1921-75) with provenance to the Bruton Gallery in Somerset drew bids from the phone and in the room before it was knocked down above estimate for £8200 (pictured in Previews, ATG No 2392).

The piece, titled Bather with Child and conceived in an edition of nine, was inspired by a bathing scene he witnessed while on holiday in Venice in 1954. Another from the same edition sold for half the sum in 2000 at Christie’s.

Rounding off the sculpture highlights was a posthumous cast made in 1980 of Auguste Rodin’s (1840-1917) bronze Glaucus (c.1886) – one of many studies arising from Rodin’s reading of Ovid’s Metamorphoses – which made a mid-estimate £10,000.