Pent-up demand appeared to boost competition at Lawrences’ (25% buyer’s premium) Summer Fine Art sales in Somerset, where traditional and modern pictures spanning six centuries featured on the final day.
“Despite trepidations, I was very encouraged by the eagerness to spend,” said Lawrences’ picture specialist Richard Kay, as sales on July 24 in Crewkerne totalled £117,000 with 88% sold by lot.
Covid-19 worries had deterred some vendors during the consignment period, so this was a smaller picture section than usual, running to just 210 lots.
The top-selling lot was a rather uncharacteristic early work by Plymouth artist Robert Lenkiewicz (1941-2002), the larger-than-life, anti-establishment figure best known for his flamboyantly painted canvases mostly preoccupied with sex, death and destitution.
The Alchemist in His Laboratory, by contrast, illustrated the artist’s scholarly interest in the history of medicine. Lenkiewicz pictured himself alongside the 17th century German alchemist Michael Maier observing a black, white and red bird in a glass flask representing the elements of the philosopher’s stone – for centuries the most sought-after goal in alchemy.
Privately consigned, the large 3ft x 3ft 11in (91cm x 1.2m) oil on masonite was dated to c.1968 by the artist’s son.
It attracted enough phone bidders and online activity to make £7500 against a £1500-2000 estimate. The buyer was a dealer in the Midlands.
A highly detailed pencil drawing made by portrait miniaturist John Smart (1741-1811) during his 10-year stint in India was offered with a £400-600 estimate.
Found slightly foxed and mottled in a box of odds and ends in a small auction in the Thames Valley some years ago, the 5½ x 4½in (13.5 x 12cm) work depicted General Sir John William Floyd (1748-1818).
He was a commander of the 23rd (19th) Light Dragoons in Madras who was fighting Tipu Sultan during the Third Anglo-Mysore War when this was sketched in 1791.
Smart differed from his fellow miniaturists in producing highly detailed sketches of his sitters before painting their miniatures so it is possible this may have been a preliminary study.
The calibre of the sitter more than the artist raised the stakes and it drew a number of keen bidders before a buyer from the London trade secured it for £2400. (According to Artprice by Artmarket, Sotheby’s set a new auction record for a drawing by Smart just a week later when a pencil self-portrait from 1793 sold for £48,000.)
The sale also achieved one of the higher prices of late for Louise Rayner (1832-1924), famous for capturing in meticulous detail the old-world character of British market towns and old cathedral cities.
Depicting a bustling street scene in Ludlow, a place she returned to on her extensive travels of Britain each summer during the 1870s-80s, this signed and typically neat watercolour, measured 11½ x 6in (29 x 16cm). It attracted keen interest from bidders in Shropshire and sold above top estimate to a private buyer from the county for £4400.
A highly decorative late 17th century oil depicting an urn of flowers doubled hopes to sell for £5000 to the London trade. Purchased as an after-sale at Sotheby’s several years ago (it was laid on board and had some restoration), the 3ft x 2ft 3in (92 x 70cm) oil on canvas came from a deceased estate. It was attributed to the German Baroque still-life artist Franz Werner von Tamm (1658- 1724).
Admired too was a dashing Regency portrait of a young gentleman in a dark coat and cream waistcoat, possibly a member of the Gough-Calthorpe family and tentatively ascribed to Scottish painter Sir Francis Grant (1803-78).
The 4ft 1in x 3ft 3in (1.24m x 98cm) oil on canvas came with provenance to Lord Calthorpe of Elvetham Hall in Hampshire and had previously been attributed to portrait painter Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830).
In the same collection since 1967, it exceeded hopes of £1200 and was bought by the West Country trade for £3200 – a decent result for a portrait with an elusive identification of both artist and sitter.
Lebasque as artist
A surprise result for the auction house, perhaps illustrating some of that stored-up demand, was an oil of a lady with a black fan by Marthe Lebasque (1897-1977). She is better known as a model and sitter for her father, the post-Impressionist painter Henri Lebasque, than as an artist in her own right.
The vendor had paid £480 for the signed 3ft 2in x 2ft (97 x 62cm) oil on board at Bonhams in London in April 2005.
It was left unsold at Lawrences in January with an estimate of £300- 500 but did rather better on the second time of asking, selling to a private buyer in the West Midlands for £2600 (£200-300 estimate).
Very few pictures by Lebasque have ever made over £500, with this work believed to be a record price for the artist at auction.