'Gathering wild roses' by William Marshall Brown – £17,000 at Woolley & Wallis.

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First up in Salisbury at the latest Modern British & 20th Century Art sale on May 11-12 was Gathering wild roses by William Marshall Brown (1863-1936), a typically airy and freely painted scene depicting the coastal landscape of East Lothian.

At 2ft 8in x 3ft 4in (81cm x 1.01m), the good size of the oil on canvas was one of the reasons bidders felt the £4000-6000 pitch was not excessive, even though most works by the artist sell for around that level or below.

Market freshness was another important factor here. Many works by the Edinburgh-born painter have been much traded over the years but this picture came to auction from a private vendor whose family had acquired it from Glasgow framer and restorer DC Thomson in 1919. This was its first appearance on the open market for over a century.

The highest prices for Brown have come for works with this subject: two or more children playing on windswept beaches or breezy fishing villages. A similar work titled Among Wild Roses, but with three figures as opposed to four here, sold at Christie’s in October 2002 for £22,000 – the highest sum at auction for the artist.

Drawing good competition, the picture in Salisbury was knocked down via at £17,000, a sum that was the highest for Brown in around a decade.

Three watercolours by the artist from the same source also sold over estimate for a combined £4850 - another sign that the market will react well if works are fresh and keenly pitched.

Attractive subject


Daisy Field by William Page Atkinson Wells – £11,000 at Woolley & Wallis.

The other picture of children in a field, although in this case also with their mother, was by the Glasgow-born artist William Page Atkinson Wells (1872-1923).

With similarly rich tones but painted with a tighter technique, the 3ft 3in x 2ft 8in (1m x 80cm) oil on canvas had an attractive subject and demonstrated the artist’s ability to convey the expansiveness of a landscape.

Titled Daisy Field, a label on the back of the picture stated that the authenticity of the work had been confirmed by the artist’s widow, Helen G Wells. Surpassing a £3000-5000 estimate, it was knocked down via at £11,000 – the third-highest price for the artist at auction (source: Artprice by Artmarket).