A 17¼ x 21¼in (44 x 54cm) oil on canvas of Whitby Abbey appeared at Ryedale Auctioneers (21.66% buyer’s premium) on March 31. It came to the North Yorkshire saleroom as part of a clearance of a substantial country estate just outside Scarborough and had the attribution to Martin on a plaque on the frame.
To the back of the picture were labels showing it had been exhibited at the 1951 Festival of Britain by Laing Art Gallery as part of ‘Tyneside’s contribution to art’, as well as at a dedicated John Martin exhibition at Laing Art Gallery in 1970.
In terms of its condition, it had an old relining and had undergone a few repairs and restoration.
Any work by the Northumberland-born artist is an attractive proposition, especially one estimated at just £200-400 as was the case here.
The highest prices for the artist have come for his large fantastical compositions such as The Celestial City and The River of Bliss which posted a record £2.3m at Sotheby’s in July 2015.
This much smaller picture still had a lot going for it. As well showing the ruins of a well known local landmark, its exhibition history, market freshness and features such the dramatic lighting gave it significant appeal – the way the sun was shown having dipped behind a promontory was a trademark feature of the artist.
On the day, the bidding rose quickly to £7000 as bidders on the internet and in the room competed strongly. Three bidders then carried on until it was eventually knocked down at £13,600 to a dealer.
Meanwhile, at Cheffins (24.5% buyer’s premium) in Cambridge on March 23-24, a view of Dolbadarn Castle in north Wales also caught the eye of a number of bidders.
Pitched at £3000-5000, the 8 x 10in (21 x 26cm) oil on panel was even smaller than the picture at Ryedale but, again, it was an evocative view of a celebrated ruin, in this case one in Snowdonia.
In fact, the stone keep of what remains of Dolbadarn Castle is today regarded as the finest example of a round tower in Wales. It was a popular subject for artists in the 18th and 19th centuries and was depicted by painters such as Richard Wilson, Paul Sandby and JMW Turner (the latter’s painting of the scene is now in the collection of The National Library of Wales).
Part of the 12 lots from the Asbjorn Lunde Foundation (see main article), it sold at £6000 to a private buyer – a sum less than the £9000 Lunde had bid for it at Sotheby’s in March 2004.