'Aufstieg der Schifahrer' by Alfons Walde – $500,000 (£397,000) at Skinner.

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The auction on May 31 was run from the firm’s premises in Marlborough, Massachusetts, with bidders from the US, Canada and Europe competing via online, phone and absentee commission bids.

A couple of winter scenes in particular drew strong interest including an attractive Alpine scene by Austrian artist Alfons Walde (1891-1958).

The 16¾in x 2ft 3in (43 x 68cm) oil on board titled Aufstieg der Schifahrer was commissioned directly from the artist by collector and avid skier Stephan Paul Laufer. He had seen a similar work by Walde on a trip to the Austrian ski town Kitzbühel in the winter of 1937-38 but, before Walde had begun the commission, Laufer fled Austria two days after the Anschluss with Germany, arriving in New York in May 1938.

It was only after the end of the Second World War that Laufer contacted Walde and arranged for the painting to be sent to him in the US. The dynamic winter scene had passed via descent to the private vendor from Maine.

Walde’s works have a strong following at auction, especially those which capture the beauty and grandeur of the Alps. Aufstieg der Schifahrer exhibited many of the hallmarks of his style and the $250,000-350,000 estimate at Skinner was not regarded as excessive by bidders.

A number of parties competed for the lot and it was eventually knocked down at $500,000 (£397,000).

Great escape


'The Daring Escape/A Coaching Scene' by Alfred von Wierusz-Kowalski – $410,000 (£325,000) at Skinner.

Also bringing competition was a painting titled The Daring Escape/A Coaching Scene by Polish artist Alfred von Wierusz-Kowalski (1849-1915). It depicted a coach racing through the snow to escape the wolves as the sun sets on the horizon.

The artist, who was born in the small Polish village of Suwalki, began learning his trade in Warsaw but spent much of his career in Munich. Although horses appear regularly in his work, it was only after 1880 that he focused more on Polish rural subjects such as A Daring Escape.

The 3ft 6in x 5ft 3in (1.06 x 1.6m) signed oil on canvas had a fragment of a label for the Goupil Gallery in New York. Again, the work had descended to the vendors and may have been purchased by a distant aunt who travelled widely and collected art.

It appears bidders particularly admired its sense of drama, use of colour and mature style. Estimated at $175,000-225,000, it attracted keen interest and sold at $410,000 (£325,000).

Wildflowers watercolour


'Wildflowers on a Wooded Path' by Léon Bonvin – $95,000 (£75,400) at Skinner.

Elsewhere in the sale, a watercolour by Léon Bonvin (1834-66) commanded a strong bidding battle.

Wildflowers on a Wooded Path was a typically meticulous still-life by the French artist who was an innkeeper by trade but devoted his free time, usually early mornings and evenings, to recording the fields and flowers near his home in Vaugirard on the outskirts of Paris.

He tended to use sepia-toned ink to outline the forms of the flowers, achieving a distinctive, almost photographic, effect in his watercolours, as was evident in this example.

Although he remained largely unrecognised during his lifetime, the American collector William T Walters (1820-94) amassed a group of 56 watercolours and one rare oil painting which today are in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and remain the largest collection of known works by Bonvin.

This 10 x 7¼in (25 x 18cm) watercolour and gouache on paper was signed and dated 1865. It came to auction from a family collection in Massachusetts having been purchased at Sotheby’s London in 1985.

The estimate of $6000-8000 proved highly attractive to a number of interested parties and it sold at $95,000 (£75,400). The price was a new record for the artist at auction.