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A study of trees by John White Abbott – £4200 at Chiswick Auctions’ sale of works from the Fry collection.

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With Chiswick Auctions’ (25% buyer’s premium) dedicated sale of works from the Fry collection running to over 900 separate items, the specialist in charge Suzanne Zack said it was “one of the largest and most wide-ranging collections focused on watercolours and drawings that I have catalogued”.

The works were grouped into 136 lots – mainly 18th and 19th century British drawings and watercolours but also a handful of lots comprising the dozens of fittings and pieces of furniture that had once graced the dealer’s Jermyn Street gallery. The whole event evoked memories of 50 years ago when the Fry Gallery was at its height.

The auction house said the sale on July 9 attracted “enthusiastic bidding from collectors” with 124 lots sold (91%) for a £86,865 hammer total, a figure near the top end of the £58,600-88,650 estimate for the collection.

The lots were bought by 63 different buyers, around 40% of whom were new clients, both trade and private.

Chiswick head of fine art Adrian Biddell said: “In today’s fast-paced world traditional British watercolours and drawings can easily be overlooked, so it was very reassuring that the sale attracted much interest primarily among UK buyers but also internationally.”

Easel does it

Among the group lots of the props from the Fry Gallery, a collection of 11 small wooden easels, perfect for displaying watercolours on a table or desk, attracted wide interest against a £100-150 pitch and sold to the French trade at £2200. Guided at the same level, a charming group of 10 artist’s paint boxes from the 19th and early 20th century (some containing original pigments and palettes) took £1400.

It was a similar story with the watercolours. Ten unframed Grand Tour views, including three formerly in the collection of Leonard Duke, overshot a £300-500 estimate and took £1500, while a group of 26 mixed portraits and figure studies surpassed a £200-300 pitch and sold at £850.

The highest individual price of the sale came for a study of trees of a rocky outcrop by John White Abbott (1763-1851).

A small but detailed sketch, the 9¾ x 12¼in (24 x 21cm) pen, ink and wash composition was a characteristic work with a delicate treatment of the subject and an attractive rendering of outline and shade.

The artist was a surgeon and apothecary by trade but, as a keen amateur painter who took lessons from his friend Francis Towne, he became a notable artist in his own right.

Although he reputedly never sold a picture, his works received some acclaim and he became an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Art.

His works on paper appear quite often on the market and can make a wide range of prices – the highest normally coming for brighter watercolours, although the record of £140,000 was set at Sotheby’s in March 2000 for a large pen and ink drawing of Ugbrooke Park in Devon.

The setting here was thought to be Dovedale, Derbyshire. Estimated at £1000-1500, it was knocked down at £4200 to the London trade – a sum that was above average for a work of this size and medium.