Portrait of a girl, thought to be the artist’s niece, by Phoebe Anna Traquair – £16,000 at Bonhams.

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Traquair was a notable figure in the Arts & Crafts movement and was elected as the first female honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy in 1920 which was, incidentally, 20 years after she had originally been turned down.

Born in Dublin, she came to Scotland in 1874 when her father, Ramsay Traquair, was appointed Keeper of Natural History at the Museum of Science and Art in Edinburgh (known today as the National Museum of Scotland).

Although she is now regarded an important figure who excelled in a range of disciplines including painting, illustrating, enamelling, embroidery and jewellery design, her works do not appear on the market regularly.

Bonhams' picture specialist in Edinburgh May Matthews said the consignment represented “a once in a generation chance” for collectors. “Phoebe Anna Traquair holds a unique place in the history of Scottish culture and was the first major woman artist in modern Scotland,” she said.

“Collectors responded enthusiastically to the chance to acquire one of these beautiful works,” she added, noting that the variety of paintings, drawings, watercolours and even a plaque on offer “gave everyone an opportunity to get involved in the bidding”.

Competition at the October 14 auction came mainly from the UK but also the US and Ireland with trade, private and institutional interest all emerging.

All bar one of the 33 lots sold for a £110,000 total. The three top Traquair works went to three different private buyers: two in England and one in Scotland.

About a boy

Leading the group was Reverie, a 9¾ x 13in (25 x 33cm) oil on board of a young boy resting on his elbow. Figurative subjects tend to be the most sought after and works depicting children have a special place in Traquair’s oeuvre. With trademark muted palette, the picture estimated at £1000-1500 sold for £17,000.


'Reverie' by Phoebe Anna Traquair – £17,000 at Bonhams.

Only two works have made more for Traquair at auction: an enamel triptych that took £25,000 at Shapes in 2007 and a painting titled Love’s Testament that achieved £32,000 at Christie’s back in 1993.

Another child portrait at Bonhams, possibly of the same sitter, titled Boy and Sheep, also commanded good interest. It was estimated at £2000-3000 and sold for £8000. According to the catalogue, it related to Shepherd Boy, now in the National Galleries of Scotland, which was painted the same year and used the same size canvas.

Also making a hefty price was a portrait of a girl, believed to be the artist’s niece Ada Moss. Dated ’91, the 10¼ x 8¼in (26 x 21cm) oil on canvas was signed with a monogram and, against a £1000-1500 estimate, sold at £16,000.

Overall, the Bonhams sale raised £560,310 with 186 of the 251 lots (79.43%) finding buyers.

While a George Leslie Hunter (1877-1931) still-life failed to sell against a £120,000-150,000 estimate, the auction was led by two somewhat louche works by Jack Vettriano (b.1951) – the Scarlet Ribbons, Lovely Ribbons that took £75,000 and Ae Fond Kiss that made £42,000.