An impressive work by the celebrated transport painter Terence Cuneo (1907-96) of the last steam engine built for British Rail, in 1960, attracted multiple bids at Essex saleroom Sworders (25% buyer’s premium).
Evening Star at Full Steam dates from 1963, two years before the BR standard class 9F engine was withdrawn from service after suffering collision damage. The engine, built with the intention that it would be preserved as a heritage object, is now in the National Railway Museum in York.
Steam motive power continued on BR before its eventual demise in August 1968.
The 2ft 6in x 3ft 4in (76cm x 1.02m) oil painting depicts Evening Star hauling trucks with Cuneo’s famous mouse – a feature in all his paintings since 1952 – enjoying a privileged view from a telegraph pole to the left of the composition.
It was commissioned from Cuneo by the printer James Haworth for use in the company’s 1964 calendar and later became one of Haworth’s most successful fine art prints (copies of the original edition of 2500 can be bought for £75 today, while later reproductions now sell on eBay for around £40).
The original work was one of 12 Cuneo paintings exhibited at a 50th anniversary dinner of railway track manufacturer Pandrol in 1987 and also formed part of the Cuneo exhibition held at the Mall Galleries in 1988.
Offered with a £40,000-60,000 estimate at Sworders in a Fine Interiors sale on March 10-11 from descendants of the Haworth family, it was eventually knocked down for £65,000. The sum equals the hammer price paid for another well-known example of Cuneo’s railway work, The Royal Duchy: King George V storms up the grade out of Dainton Tunnel (1989), which was offered for the first time on the secondary market at Christie’s in May 2017.
Cuneo’s The Lickey Incline (1968), a famous commission by steam railway preservationist Patrick Whitehouse depicting the LMS Jubilee locomotive Kolhapur pulling a passenger train up the infamous incline, set the artist’s auction record in May 2005 when it sold for a premium-inclusive £69,600 at Christie’s South Kensington.
More than doubling hopes to sell for £37,000 at Sworders was a 17th century harbour scene by Hendrik van Minderhout (1632-96), a Dutch-born marine artist known as ‘The Green Knight of Rotterdam’ who made his name painting grandiose marine scenes and Italianate landscapes.
Typical of his busy and theatrical harbour scene compositions, the well-sized oil on canvas, measuring 3ft 5in x 3ft 9in (1.05 x 1.14m), had the descriptive title A Dutch States Yacht and a Man-O-War in Calm Waters at Sunset, Other Shipping Beyond.
Minderhout’s largest and most elaborate harbour scenes, some over 7ft (2.1m) wide, can fetch two or even three times as much on the secondary market.
To be a pilgrim
Another sizeable lot in the sale was a late 19th century oil of Canterbury pilgrims by the historical and literary genre painter Edward Henry Corbould (1815-1905).
An extremely prolific artist who served as drawing master to the Royal Family, Corbould exhibited at the Royal Academy, the British Institution, the Society of British Artists and the Institute of Painters in Watercolours, where the bulk of his work went.
The 3ft 11in x 6ft 3in (1.2 x 1.91m) work at Sworders, signed with monogram and dated 1892, was executed in oils rather than Corbould’s preferred watercolour and formed part of a series of pictures on the Canterbury pilgrims. (The artist also made illustrations for a book containing Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales published by George Routledge and Sons in c.1840.)
Although not identified as such in the catalogue, the composition was identical to another of Corbould’s works titled Canterbury Pilgrims Assembled at the Old Tabard Inn, Southwark (1870). It was knocked down on bottom estimate for £6000.
Elsewhere at the Essex sale, a swagger portrait of a French nobleman by the circle of Baroque painter Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659- 1743) more than doubled hopes to sell for £6500 (estimate £2000-3000).
A large canvas depicting the 1863 marriage of Queen Victoria’s eldest son, the Prince of Wales, to Princess Alexandra of Denmark, by a follower of George Hayter (1972-1871), made £5600 (estimate £3000-5000).