A painting by Cedric Morris (1889- 1982) may have been the top lot of Sworders’ Modern British and 20th century art auction in Stansted Mountfitchet, but it was a work by a pupil of his that took a surprise 10-times estimate price at the October 22 sale.
An oil on board portrait by David Carr (1915-68), estimated at £200- 300, made a much more substantial £3300.
Although born into the Carlisle biscuit-making family of the same name, Carr has a strong link to East Anglia. Both he and his future wife Barbara Gilligan were members of The East Anglian School of Painting (founder Morris painted them together in a portrait that is now in the Tate Gallery collection) and the couple later moved to Starston Hall in Harleston, Norfolk.
Little regarded in his lifetime, Carr was the subject of exhibitions in 1969 at the Bertha Shaeffer Gallery in New York, in 1987 at the Mayor Gallery (when the monograph David Carr, the Discovery of an Artist was published) and in 1997 when his work was shown alongside that of friend Prunela Clough at Austin Desmond Fine Art.
On stylistic grounds this oil on board of a woman with a lily, 21 x 13in (54 x 32cm), signed bottom left, probably dates from c.1950.
Only a handful of Carr pictures have made more. A wartime scene titled Over Queen Victoria Street, London, 1941 sold for £3400 at Chiswick Auctions in 2018.
The East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing was founded by Morris in 1937 in Suffolk.
Morris is now as well-known today for horticulture as he is for his paintings, having bred more than 90 named varieties of irises in his Suffolk garden.
The self-taught Welsh artist’s flower paintings have been gaining in popularity, and price, in recent years. Foxgloves, a 1932 oil of English garden flowers, was hammered down at £160,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium) at the Sworders sale.
Dealer Philip Mould bought the picture for his stock.
He said: “I thought this was particularly beautiful and painted in the 1930s when he was peaking.”
Mould was also the successful bidder on two later Morris works. A 2 x 3ft (61 x 91cm) oil on canvas, View of Turkish village near Izmir (1971), sold at £10,000 against an estimate of £10,000-15,000. It was previously in Mould’s Cedric Morris: Beyond the Garden Wall exhibition last year. A 2ft 6in x 2ft (76 x 61cm) oil on canvas, A Still Life with Vases, Flowers and a Dish of Painted Eggs (1970), made £18,000 (estimate: £20,000-30,000). The still-life is inscribed on the back Reserved for Tony Venison £500.
Both paintings were consigned to sale from Hill House in Sudbury, the home of Venison who for many years was the gardens editor of Country Life and a frequent visitor to Benton End.
Guy Schooling, chairman at Sworders, said: “Tony Venison is perhaps one of the last direct connections with Morris.”
Venison bought pictures directly from the many artists he knew at Benton End, as he did with another local group of artists: the Great Bardfield group.
A connection to Morris was evident from two later works offered at the Sworders sale. Maggi Hambling (b.1945) was a pupil at Benton End in the 1960s. Purchased directly from her, a small oil on board titled Portrait of the Sea and dated 06, just 5.5 x 22cm, sold at £5400 against a £400-600 estimate.
A picture by Great Bardfield artist John Aldridge (1905-83), Harvest Field August 1939, came with quite a story. Purchased by EG Jaklin Esq at an exhibition held at the Leicester Galleries in 1940, it was later damaged by shrapnel in an air raid. The owner returned the picture to the artist who had been happy to restore it. Estimated at £1500-2500, it took £3700.
Beyond East Anglia
Away from works with an East Anglia connection, an unexpected result came in the shape of £3600 bid for a carved hardwood figure of a woman by Alan Lydiat Durst (1883-1970) – a London Group artist and teacher at the Royal College of Art.
The price is among the highest prices for the artist since two earlier carvings sold in London for £13,000 each: Bull (Sotheby’s 2007) and Marriage, 1927 (Christie’s 2002).
From a West Country collection, two monumental carved stone sculptures by Emily Young (b.1951) were offered. Her commercial star has risen sharply in recent years – a new artist record was set in London earlier this year – but these were quite different from her signature style.
Contemplative Figure with Egg and Bowl and The Formality of Couples were both fresh to the market, the former purchased through The Fine Art Society, the latter directly from the artist. They sold at £33,000 and £31,000 respectively.