They came from the collection of the Tim and Virginia Hoare. Tim was a stockbroker and financier who died in 2019 and the works came to the auction in Newbury on June 15-16 from Hollycombe House, his 18th century Hampshire estate.
The two oils on canvas were similarly sized (the larger measured 16½ x 22in (43 x 56cm) and showed the Bute Ironworks at Rhymney.
Established by the Marquis of Bute in 1824, the ironworks were designed by John Macculloch in an Egyptian Revival architectural style and were said to resemble the ruins of Dendera.
They were built on the west (Glamorgan) side of the river Rhymney, opposite the existing Rhymney Ironworks on the other side of the river. The two operated together from 1825 onwards producing 5500 tonnes of iron per year by the end of the 1820s.
These two pictures seemingly depicted the complex on both sides of the river.
For the Bute project, Macculloch originally planned for 24 furnaces but only six were built by 1839.
Becoming known as ‘the Egyptian works’, the highly stylised design was much admired but images of the ironworks, which closed in 1891, showing how it looked in its heyday remain elusive (they are much rarer than those of the larger ironworks in south Wales such as Cyfarthfa, Dowlais and Tredegar for example).
Only a few photos from the 1870s showing particular sections are known, while a painted view of Rhymney by Penry Williams (1802-85) from c.1844 is also extant (now in the National Library of Wales).
These paintings in Newbury, therefore, represented great rarities as together they showed seemingly all the key elements of the ironworks: the decorative façade in front of the boiler house chimney, the striking spherical blast regulator, the blast furnaces, the engine house, the bridge over the river, the forges and mills in the distance, as well as the discarded equipment and topographical details to the foreground of each work.
The artist was believed to be John Petherick (1788-1861), a painter born in south Wales near the Pen-y-Darren ironworks in Merthyr Tydfil, and who frequently depicted industrial scenes. The auction house offered the works as ‘attributed to John Petherick’ and gave them a £1500-2000 estimate.
Naturally the subject matter was highly appealing for collectors interested in Welsh art and Welsh social history and they drew ‘numerous’ Welsh bidders. The lot was eventually knocked down at £15,000 to an online bidder.