William Russell Flint’s (1880-1969) famous 20th century watercolours of long-legged and nubile young ladies reclining in idyllic interiors may command a little less today than they did over the last few decades, but competition can still be fierce especially for top-quality examples.
This was the case for a market-fresh watercolour in its original frame of a semi-clad model guided at £10,000-15,000 in a February 26 picture sale at Mallams (22.5% buyer’s premium) in Oxford.
The 14 x 19in (35 x 48cm) work was in good condition and had been owned by a friend of the artist who paid £250 two years after it was painted in 1959. It was later exhibited at a Royal Academy exhibition of Flint’s work in 1962.
Although titled Naomi, it is thought to depict Flint’s favourite model Cecilia Green (1931-2003), who appeared in many of his paintings from the early 1950s until 1966 in a variety of roles such as the Spanish gypsy in Naomi to a cloistered nun.
“I had adapted faces to make them look like hers years and years before I met her,” Flint said.
It drew bids from the internet and the phone before selling to the latter for £18,000 – one of the higher prices for a single-figure watercolour portrait in recent years.
“This was a sexy, sultry and quite colourful image which to best of my knowledge is what helps them tick along,” said Rupert Fogden, head of paintings, prints and manuscripts at Mallams.
Larger watercolour compositions and oils do command more at auction. In December last year Christie’s achieved a premium-inclusive £407,250 for a monumental oil depicting The Judgement of Paris formerly owned by the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.
By contrast, Flint’s signed prints of his watercolours (Naomi was also published as a print) have dropped in value in recent decades. “They used to be so commercial 25 years ago, selling for hundreds of pounds, but now you get £20-30,” said Fogden.
Another Flint watercolour from a different source, an 18 x 13in (46 x 33cm) work titled No 1 Barbara depicting a red-headed model in a white sheet holding a teacup, sold on thesaleroom.com for £6800 against a modest guide of £1500-2500.
Assembled in Oxford
The £200,000 sale, which achieved an 81% selling rate from nearly 490 lots, also contained some 30 lots of traditional oils and works on paper assembled in the early 1980s onwards by an Oxford collector.
Among the earliest acquisitions was an Old Master head study of a man in sanguine chalk spotted by several bidders as being of substantially more value than its £300-400 guide and the £340 the collector had apparently paid for it in 1982.
It was catalogued as ‘Circle of’ the Italian Mannerist painter Jacopo Bassano and his family, 16th or 17th century, and had Bassano inscribed in ink and an old collector’s monogram that the auction house was unable to decipher. The 5 x 4in (12 x 11cm) work drew bids from several phones before it was knocked down to a trade buyer at £23,000.
Payne and gain
Internet bids materialised for a private consignment of watercolours by the Birmingham Group artist-craftsman Henry Payne (1868-1940).
Knocked down to a private buyer at £4800 via thesaleroom.com was The Valley of Vision, an unfinished Burne-Jones-esque pencil, red chalk and watercolour drawing illustrating Dante’s Purgatorio. The landscape was based on Minchinhampton Common, close to Payne’s home in Amberley near Stroud.
Dated to c.1910, the 15 x 18½in (38 x 47cm) work had been exhibited at the Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery in 1987 and at the Barbican Art Gallery’s The Last Romantics exhibition in 1999.
It was offered swiftly after a finished watercolour of the same work sold for £23,750 (with fees) at Sotheby’s in London in December.
The six-lot group also included a landscape of the artist’s Amberley home which made £280 (estimate £250-350) and £400 (estimate £300-500) was paid for a design for a stained-glass window at St Agatha’s Church in Birmingham that was later destroyed by a German bomb in 1940.
Two marine paintings by the Anglo-Dutch painter Abraham Hulk (1813-97) from a house in Oxfordshire bettered hopes to sell for £8000.
Hulk was known for his mastery of atmosphere, skilled in painting both a choppy sea with looming storm clouds and a calm estuary at sunset. These typical works, Shipping in a Calm and Fishing Folk Tending to their Boats at Low Tide, were signed, nicely sized at 11 x 16in (28 x 40cm) and in original condition.
The same collection included an Orientalist oil painting by Louis-Auguste Girardot (1856-1933), a pupil of Gérôme who found fame depicting young Middle Eastern women. This example titled Aisda and measuring 21 x 15in (53 x 39cm) made £4500 (estimate £2000-3000).