The live online-only event on June 25 was a combination of the modern pictures sale previously scheduled for May and the traditional art auction which usually takes place in July.
The 435-lot sale raised a total of £238,506 including premium and, as has been witnessed elsewhere at auctions across the country, both the selling rate – around 90% – and the overall demand for the material on offer did not seem to be unduly affected by the lockdown.
In terms of deciding whether to repeat the excise, Mallams’ head of design and post-war British art Max Fisher said: “It is definitely something we would look to do in future as it proved very successful. The online-only element seemed to work seamlessly for pictures.”
The sale was led by a work that came from a large Oxfordshire estate. The source had already provided Mallams with a William Russell Flint that made £18,000 in February but here it yielded a number of Modern British pictures that generated good interest.
These included a William Scott (1913-89) lithograph – a 1962 artist’s proof of an abstract titled Barra – that made £2400 against a £600-800 estimate, and a Bryan Pearce (1929- 2006) pen and ink still-life sold within predictions at £2200.
The stand-out lot in the consignment here though was a painting by Keith Vaughan (1912-77): Green Landscape, an 18½in x 15¾in (47 x 40cm) oil on panel from c.1965.
While figurative works by the artist appear more frequently and tend to command the higher prices, abstract landscapes are a significant part of his oeuvre and the best examples from the 1950s and early 60s are regarded as quite ambitious and creative, especially in the way he distilled views of the English landscape into slanting blocks of harmonious colours.
Examples such as this work in Oxford were usually based on real places and the patterns followed the layout of fields, trees, buildings, paths and foliage of the scene. In an article titled A View of English Painting, the artist wrote: “Imagination is based always on observation; it is a summary of the evidence of the senses, intensified in the memory…the point of value lies in whether our own experience is enlarged by the distortion.”
Vaughan landscapes appear at auction fairly regularly, often including figures, but a complete figureless abstract example titled Landscape with burning fields emerged at Woolley & Wallis in November 2017 and made £12,000.
Green Landscape was one of a number of works in the consignment at Mallams that had been purchased from Hampstead dealer Julian Lax in the early 2000s. It was estimated at £15,000-25,000 and sold at £17,000 to a private collector who focuses on Vaughan and was delighted at their purchase, according to the auction house.
When the buyer’s premium was added, the price was virtually identical to another similarly sized work with the same title, although with a slightly more muted palette, that sold at Bonhams in June 2019.
Another 20th century British picture at the Mallams sale but from a different source was Figures outside farm buildings by Charles Knight (1901-90). Although it made a lesser sum, it drew greater competition especially with estimate set at a highly obtainable £80-120.
The 17¼ x 23½in (44 x 60cm) oil on canvas was dated 1938, meaning it was painted four years after the artist had moved to Ditchling in Sussex and shortly before he would be drafted into Sir Kenneth Clarke’s Recording Britain project at the start the Second World War.
Although artists such as John Piper, Kenneth Rowntree and Rowland Hilder were also involved in the project, the 40 works by Knight were described as the “star turn” by Sir William Russell Flint, another of the participants.
One of those 40 was a watercolour and gouache titled The Old Bun Shop, Pool Valley, Brighton which is now in the V&A Museum. Another version of the same picture appeared at Dominic Winter in October 2017 and set an auction record of £2500.
While the artist does not have the same prominence on the secondary market as many of his colleagues from the Recording Britain project, he does retain a following and has been championed for a long time by dealer Chris Beetles.
Beetles held a retrospective back in 1997 in conjunction with the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne and Hove Museum and Art Gallery (the artist has supporters on the south coast in particular, having studied and then taught at Brighton School of Art – he also gave Princess Margaret lessons in watercolour painting for three years).
While Knight’s early works in the 1920s were inspired the watercolours of John Sell Cotman, his style became more original and distinctive by the time this work at Mallams was painted. His oil paintings are less commonly seen at auction compared to watercolours but this picture came to auction from a private vendor who consigned it via Mallams’ Cheltenham branch.
After commanding numerous bids, it eventually sold at £3200 to a private buyer, a new high for the artist at auction, according to ‘Artprice by Art Market’.
Lear in Greece
Meanwhile, among the works bringing competition at the traditional section of the sale (the first 200 lots) was an Edward Lear (1812-88) watercolour, pen and ink of a Greek landscape that came from a deceased estate but had provenance to the Fine Art Society back in the 1940s.
Kalama measured 8¾ x 12¼in (22 x 31cm) and was dated April 6, 1857 to the lower right. The scene depicted is the Kalama valley in north-west Greece with its eponymous waterfall, a scenic area known for its rich flora and fauna where Lear also produced other watercolour sketches and drawings.
Again, the estimate of £2000- 3000 was not deemed excessive and it sold to a private buyer at £6000.
The market for traditional watercolours has become tougher over the last decade. However, sums for Lear have partially weathered the storm better than some other English artist. The price here can be compared to £8500 bid for The Falls of the Kalama, another Lear watercolour that sold at Christie’s in December 2010, although that example was a more fully resolved picture which included a couple of figures too.
Wild and windswept
Also from the same deceased estate was a watercolour of the Isle of Wight by William Turner of Oxford (1789-1862).
Depicting St Catherine’s Down, the wild and windswept coastal grassland, with its offertory (a medieval lighthouse) visible to the right, it measured 12¼ x 21¾in (31 x 52.5cm) and was estimated at £1000- 1500. It sold at £3200 to the trade, a solid mid-range sum for the artist.