The auction on July 16 generated a hammer total of £525,160, surpassing the house record set only last November for a sale by over £25,000.
With 87% of the 437 lots selling, it also posted the highest average lot value for any Welsh Sale (£1371 compared to the next highest at £1106).
“The averages and totals have steadily gone up, especially in the last three years”, said Rogers Jones, auctioneer and partner at the Colwyn Bay and Cardiff-based firm. “This can be put down to a focus on quality and by the fact that we are receiving an increase in consignments from further afield. There were four pictures in this Welsh Sale from overseas, for example.
“In 2021 our annual sales total was over £3m for the first time and we are on course to do better this year again, largely due to this shift on focus towards quality, specialist departments and regional offices.”
As always, the success of these Cardiff sales was in large part down to the performance of works by Sir Kyffin Williams (1918-2006).
Here, 16 lots by the Welsh market’s golden boy provided 42% of the overall total. The top lot of the day was a 1976 landscape titled Lleyn that sold above estimate at £52,000 (see separate story this edition).
But Sir Kyffin’s contribution wasn’t the only factor in the strong results here. Good demand greeted works throughout the picture section and further down the price scale with more bidders seemingly coming not just from Wales but also elsewhere in the UK.
Rogers Jones said this sale offered “the best examples” he had seen of works by a series of Welsh artists.
These included Aneurin Jones (1930-2017), for whose followers a large country scene with figures and horses proved a major attraction.
Welsh cobs with handlers and crowd of figures, a 2ft 8in x 4ft 1in (80cm x 1.25m) oil on board, came to auction from a private collection in the Vale of Glamorgan and was in a good state being ready to hang.
The artist, who was the son of a farmer from the border of Brecon and Carmarthen, specialised in views of country markets such as this as well as depictions of sheepdog trials and agricultural shows.
He studied at Swansea College of Art in the early 1950s and spent two years as a stained glass window designer before becoming head of the art department at a state school in Pembrokeshire. When it came to his own work, he maintained a steady flow of output over his career and held a number of solo exhibitions including at the National Library of Wales and the Oriel Ceri Richards Gallery in Swansea.
It has been a while since such a large-scale picture with a busy composition came to the market. Indeed, pictures of horse fairs appear to be the most popular among Jones’ buyers with the highest auction price before this sale being £7800 for another sizable work titled The horse sales, sold at Anthemion Auctions in Cardiff in 2019.
With the way the composition and rendering of the figures candidly captured the atmosphere of these rural events that the artist knew well, Welsh cobs with handlers… overshot a £3000-4000 estimate and sold for £9500 to a private collector from Gloucestershire bidding on thesaleroom.com, establishing a new record for the artist.
It was a good day for Jones. As well as this overall record, a separately consigned drawing of a horse and group of standing farmers set the highest auction price for a work on paper by the artist.
Llanybydder, an 11 x 15¼in (28 x 39cm) red pen and ink sketch came from a Swansea source and again benefited from its subject matter which included plenty of figures.
Estimated at £300-500, it sold online at £1900 to a different buyer, again from England but in this case a private collector in Dorset.
Down the valley
Another very Welsh scene also set an artist’s record at the Cardiff sale: a view of a south Wales valley with terraced houses and a colliery.
The creator of the 2ft x 3ft (61 x 91cm) oil on board was Heinz Koppel (1919-80), a Jewish refugee who left Germany and moved to London (via Prague) before settling in Merthyr Tydfil in 1944.
Koppel, whose father established a zip factory on the local Treforest Industrial Estate, studied in London and in 1956 co-founded the 56 Group, a set of artists and sculptors based in Wales.
Views of industrial towns and their inhabitants were among Koppel’s most important works and, although he exhibited fairly widely, he has never had much prominence on the secondary market.
This picture, which came from a mid-Wales vendor, was signed and dated 1954 and showed a steep road with a child to the left side climbing a lamppost with a toy bow and arrow.
The estimate of £700-1000 implied the saleroom regarded it as more valuable than any previous work to emerge at auction before (the previous high was seemingly only £750 for a still-life).
That proved correct as it drew good interest and sold online at £2400 to a Cardiff collector.
It was a similar story for a study of walking miners by Valerie Ganz (1936-2015).
One of the works consigned from outside Wales (it came from a London collection), the oil on canvas was estimated at £5000-7000, a level beyond the artist’s previous auction high.
Measuring 2ft 3in x 2ft 11in (69 x 89cm), it sold online on low estimate to a private buyer from Norfolk. Five other works by the artist, including four works on paper, all sold above estimate at the sale, raising a combined £3850.
A number of traditional watercolours by English artists, but depicting Welsh subjects, also brought attention at the sale and made a useful contribution to the bottom line.
A landscape with cattle by John Varley (1778-1842) was consigned by a Neath-Port Talbot vendor who had purchased it from Sotheby’s in 1993.
Measuring 18½ x 23½in (47 x 60cm), it was signed and in good condition having been kept behind glass. An inscription to the mount, Beddgelert Bridge, implied it depicted a location now within Snowdonia National Park that has become a much photographed landmark.
Varley watercolours appear regularly on the market, in part because he produced them so prolifically as he tried to steer away from his money problems (he served several spells in debtors prison).
But, while buyers can be selective, his Welsh subjects have a particular resonance for collectors as the wild mountain scenery was well suited to his Romantic style and approach.
With this in its favour, along with the fact it was a good-sized watercolour, it drew decent interest against a £1500-2000 pitch and sold at £7500 to a private collector from Shropshire – an above average sum for a Varley work on paper.
Also going over estimate was a Paul Sandby (c.1730-1809) watercolour of Caernarvon Castle. Dated 1792, it had a label on the back for dealers Thos Agnew & Sons and was in good condition for its age despite some slight foxing and discolouration. Estimated at £2000-3000, it sold online at £4000 to a London buyer.