The transmissions included messages from prisoners of war to relatives, prompting many UK and US listeners to tune in.
Lord Haw Haw, a 2ft x 2ft 5in (61 x 74.5cm) oil on canvas by Hilda Davis dated 1940, caught the eye of two bidders at the October 11 auction at Lawrences of Crewkerne. The scene, which had been estimated at £500-700, depicts a family listening intently, and with a degree of alarm, to the broadcast.
Richard Kay, director of pictures at the saleroom, said: “We did not take one single enquiry ahead of the sale and there was no indication it would sell at all.”
However, an online bidder battled it out from a starting bid of £440 with a private collector on the phone, local to the Somerset saleroom, who eventually secured this work at £26,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium) – setting an artist record.
Kay added: “The interest in this painting was not because of the artist, it came down to the date and the subject, and that both parties were adamant they wanted it.
“The picture provokes a conversation. This isn’t a picture of a great British hero, instead it’s a character who left an awful stain of treachery. But the picture has a slightly cartoonish feel to it and invites analysis.
“It was painted at a critical point in the war, a febrile moment at the height of the Blitz when concern about the rise of the power of the Nazis was considerable.”
The picture carries an exhibition label on the reverse from the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery’s show Eminent Living Artists (March-June 1945) held in Bournemouth at the very end of the war. Joyce was captured in May 1945 and later tried on three counts of high treason. He was hanged in 1946.
Only a dozen examples of Davis’ work have appeared at auction in the past three decades, making just a few hundred pounds each.
Very little is known about the artist, who was active between 1935-60. Her most recent auction result was at Sworders on June 7, 2016, when the 1937 oil painting Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard was hammered down at £200. Her Nurses Sitting Around a Table is in the Imperial Health Charity art collection in St Mary’s Hospital in London.
The Lord Haw Haw picture was consigned to the saleroom by the wife of a late antiques dealer who said the result was the best profit he might have ever made.