These works – a portrait by Bloomsbury Group painter Duncan Grant (1885-1978) and a bucolic Welsh view by the war artist John Northcote Nash (1893-1977) – were offered on September 26 in a Art & Design Post 1850 sale at Duke’s (25% buyer’s premium) of Dorchester.
Grant’s portrait depicted one of his lovers, the translator and publisher Angus Davidson (1898-1980), at Grant and Vanessa Bell’s famous Sussex farmhouse, Charleston.
Davidson featured greatly in Grant’s affections from 1922 – the year this painting was made – and was friends with many of the Bloomsbury notables, working for a short while with Leonard and Virginia Woolf at The Hogarth Press in the early 1920s.
Although the relationship faded, he remained one of Grant’s most loyal and lasting friends.
The 2ft x 2ft 5in (61 x 73cm) oil on canvas, showing Davidson reading at one of Charleston’s famous hand-painted tables with a vase of orange and red dahlias, had remained in the same family since it was acquired from the fine art dealer Agnews in 1940. It was later shown at a retrospective exhibition of Grant’s work at the Tate in 1959.
John Holmes, operations director at Duke’s, described the work as “not a classic Duncan Grant picture but a really special documentary work, a strong Bloomsbury piece with great ownership history”.
It attracted bids from the book and several phone lines before it was knocked down to a buyer from the trade at a mid-estimate £20,000.
Davidson was depicted in a number of Grant’s paintings and drawings, but this appears to be among the most expensive sold at auction. A portrait of him in the garden at Charleston sold at Sotheby’s in 1990 for £8000, while a head-and-shoulders portrait made £5000 in the same rooms in 2010.
He was also painted in the nude, with two drawings from 1922 selling in 2001 for £450 and £380 at Christie’s South Kensington and Bonhams & Brooks respectively.
The highest overall price at auction remains Grant’s pointillist-style nude portrait of the mountaineer George Mallory, which sold at Christie’s in 2016 for £170,500 (with fees).
Llangennith Panorama, Nash’s 1950s bucolic Welsh view of the Gower Peninsula near Swansea, sold below a bullish £20,000-30,000 guide for £18,000 to a trade buyer.
Gower Peninsula, one of the first areas in the UK to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, was among the artist’s favourite painting spots. Nash sold the signed 2ft 4in x 3ft (71 x 91.5cm) work for £140 in 1969 to Agnews, which in turn sold it a day later for £200 to the vendor.
“Nash is best known as a wartime artist along with his brother Paul Nash, but this result was nevertheless a strong price for one of his bucolic countryside landscapes,” said Holmes. A comparable Welsh landscape of the Pistyll Rhayader waterfall near Powys, that had passed by descent from a collector who had bought it at Agnews in 1973, sold for £18,000 (with fees) in 2008 at Bonhams in London.