Pilgrims Hall

Pilgrims Hall, Essex by Rex Whistler – £6500 at Tennants.

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The 15¼ x 21½in (39 x 55cm) signed oil on canvas was dated 1936 and was commissioned by the property’s owner James Lawrence, an art collector who met Whistler at an exhibition of the latter’s pictures of country houses.

It came to auction with correspondence between patron and artist, as well as a copy of a book about the property, The Private Life of a Country House by Lesley Lewis, a Lawrence family member who grew up there as a child.

Whistler was described as “a pale dark-haired young man, friendly but evidently shy” who planned the current painting by “sitting out on the lawn on a very cold June day making a detailed pencil drawing, subsequently squared up for transfer. He spent the night and was very agreeable company.”

Whistler, associated with the Bright Young Things of the 1920s but who died young after his army unit was hit by a mortar bomb in Normandy in 1944, produced a varied range of society portraits, theatrical works and illustrations. His architectural studies, however, were also an interesting part of his oeuvre, although they tend to make lesser sums than his portraits for example.

Estimated at £5000-7000, the study showing the building in the mellow evening light sold at £6500 to a UK private buyer, among the higher prices for Whistler paintings of country houses sold in the last 10 years, allbeit some way behind the £38,000 for a larger view of Longcross House from 1934 sold at Bonhams in November 2020.

As for Pilgrims Hall, the building still stands today largely unchanged.