At the same time as William Powell Frith’s (1819-1909) famous bustling panorama Derby Day was on display in a bicentenary exhibition of his greatest works in Harrogate, a fine example of his more intimate compositions was being auctioned in Cambridge.
Flowers, a 3ft 7in x 3ft 4in (1.11 x 1.02m) oil on canvas showing a young woman studying a small bunch of roses in her hand, was offered on September 11 at Cheffins (22.5% buyer’s premium). A Royal Academy exhibit in 1875, the portrait had last appeared at auction 45 years ago at Christie’s where it was purchased by the vendor for £600.
The work was well preserved overall with a paint layer described by the auction house as in “very good condition”. It was also inscribed WP Frith 1874 and had a stamp to verso for Charles Roberson, a significant supplier of canvas throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The painting’s quality, size and provenance helped it attract much interest on the day and against an estimate of £10,000-15,000 it was eventually knocked down to a trade buyer at £50,000.
Frith produced a number of ‘flower girl’ portraits throughout his career, including The Flower Girl of Boulogne, an RA exhibit in 1873, and The Flower Seller, which sold at Bonhams in London on September 26 for £22,562 (with fees).
Frith’s panoramas catapulted him to fame – six of his paintings at the RA required a guard and rail to protect them from clamorous and enthusiastic crowds – but it was his female portraits, especially of young women, which provided him with a constant source of income throughout much of his career.
The Fine Sale at Cheffins also contained the principal contents of Mawley Hall, a privately owned Grade I-listed country house in Shropshire. The hall had changed hands just twice since it was commissioned in the 18th century by Sir Edward Blount.
Following its most recent purchase in September 2018 at an estimated £10m, the owners instructed Cheffins to sell more than 200 lots, including Old Master paintings, furniture, Chinese ceramics, decorative items and carpets.
A trade buyer was triumphant on a bird painting attributed to the Hungarian artist Jakob Bogdani (1660-1724), which was eagerly contested above a £4000-6000 guide to £20,000. The 2ft 5in x 4ft 1in (74cm x 1.25m) oil on canvas included a Muscovy duck, mallard, shell duck, pochard and diving kingfisher in a wooded landscape.
Another oil from the interiors of Mawley Hall was a 17th century Dutch still-life by Johannes Bosschaert (1606-29). The 4ft 2in x 5ft 10in (1.27 x 1.8m) oil on canvas got away below bottom estimate for £17,000 to a buyer from the trade.
Attracting rather more interest from the consignment was a large European School equestrian portrait dating to c.1700.
Cheffins believed the exotically dressed rider and Arab charger derived from a 1684 painting of Muhammad ben Haddu, the Moroccan ambassador to England, painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller and Jan Wyck and in the collection at Chiswick House. However, it added that both the landscape and style of the painting suggested a European origin and therefore might depict another Turkish or north African military figure or ambassador.
According to labels on the reverse, the 6ft 9in x 6ft 2in (2.07 x 1.89m) oil on canvas had belonged to the Fairfaxes, a notable Yorkshire family who owned Bilbrough Manor and Newton Kyme Hall. It was knocked down at £7500 to the trade against a £3000-5000 estimate.
Away from the Mawley Hall consignment, an Old Master painting signed Huberius Beuckelaer 15 (8?)5 and recently identified as by the Flemish painter Huybrecht Beuckelaer (c.1535-1624) sold on bottom estimate for £20,000.
The vendor, a GP from Essex who bought it at auction in the 1960s, believed it to be the work of Beuckelaer’s brother Joachim, a specialist in market and kitchen scenes.
An increasing number of Beuckelaer’s paintings have come to light since the artist was identified as ‘monogrammist HB’ in 1997 and this painting – depicting fruit and vegetable, poultry and game sellers with the Old Church of Delft in the background – was signed Huberius Beuckelaer with an apparent date of 1585.
Selling well over its £400-600 guide was a frozen river scene with figures skating, painted in the manner of Dutch artist Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634), best known for his wintry scenes of people ice skating.
The auction house said the small and “very decorative” 11 x 15in (28 x 38cm) oil on panel drew bids from “a number of interested parties” before it was knocked down to a private buyer at £12,000.
An 18th century English School portrait once catalogued as by Thomas Gainsborough and traditionally identified as the young English poet Thomas Chatterton (1752-70) made a multi-estimate £3000. It had sold in 1953 for £52 at Christie’s where it had been fully attributed to Gainsborough.