Born in London, Plummer studied art and design at the Woolwich Polytechnic School of Art before training at The Royal Academy Schools between 1949-54. In a mixed career, painting ran parallel to his commercial work, which included illustration work for The National Trust, anatomical illustration for Guy’s Hospital and teaching.
He specialised in the painstaking technique of traditional egg tempera, often working in high detail on a large scale with a principal focus on the human form. Stylistically he combined Classical iconography and formal composition with a visual exploration reminiscent of William Blake and Spencer.
Although he exhibited widely at venues including The Leicester Galleries, Leighton House Galleries and London House Galleries, few works have been offered on the secondary market and almost none have come to auction until now.
First slice of Plummer
A first instalment of paintings from Plummer’s studio featured in Reeman Dansie’s (20% buyer’s premium) Antiques & Fine Art Sale in Colchester on February 11. Estimates for the 46 works – mainly nudes – ranged from £100-500 with the majority getting away in or above expectations.
Top-seller was Charon’s Boat, an early and large 3ft x 3ft 10in (92cm x 1.18m) group painting in egg tempera on board inspired by the Greek mythological ferryman Charon, who carried souls to Hades in the Underworld. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy Schools Competition in 1954.
A bid of £2900 secured the work against a £600-1000 estimate, almost certainly setting the benchmark for Plummer’s pictures at auction.
Daniel Wright, picture specialist and auctioneer at Reeman Dansie, said: “As far as I could find, Plummer is unknown at auction and it’s testament to the quality of his work that numerous works made four-figure sums. It’s also notable that he painted in egg-tempera, one of only a few 20th century artists resurrecting the technique.”
Panoramic place puzzler
Elsewhere in the sale a multi-estimate £7200 was paid for a 19th century Anglo-Indian school landscape. It depicted a panoramic view of an unidentified harbour with British vessels. This was similar to the scenes found in China Trade paintings.
Purchased from a London saleroom “some years ago for a fraction of the price”, the unsigned 10in x 2ft 7in (24 x 80cm) work attracted interest from Asia.
Old Master etchings
Three Old Master etchings also did better than predicted when they sold together at £3000 (estimate £80-120). Although not catalogued as such, the Old Master prints were initialled with an R identical to those found on prints by the Dutch Golden Age painter Pieter Quast (1605-47).
An accomplished draftsman, Quast executed the majority of his drawings in pencil and grey wash on vellum and often depicted studies of peasants and soldiers, some of which were engraved and published by Salomon Savery in the 1630s.
Offered in Ivor Weiss decorative frames, the prints for sale in Colchester appeared to belong to a series of 26 prints called Beggars and Peasants etched c.1634-40.
Examples from the series are in collections at the British Museum, the Rijksmuseum and National Galleries of Scotland.