Profile portrait of a young woman by Florence Small – a record £5200 at Adam Partridge.

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One name to whom this might apply is Florence Veric Hardy Small (1860-1933), a painter who was quite established in her day but who has now largely fallen off the radar.

Only around 20-30 pictures by the Nottingham-born artist have emerged at auction in the last couple of decades, averaging about one a year. However, there is no indication that her output was particularly sparse; in fact she exhibited quite widely at London galleries in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Few works have been sold over the years. With most of her pictures making under £200 when they do appear, and only four having fetched over £1000 according to Artprice, it seems likely that the lack of an established market in her work has led to a dearth of consignments.

Small began attracting attention as an artist in the 1880s and became a relatively well-known figure in London’s commercial art world. She had studied in Paris, training under William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Robert Henri, as well as Geneva and Berlin.

She became a member of the Pastel Society in 1898 and went on to exhibit at the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of British Artists and the Royal Scottish Academy as well as Nottingham Art Gallery and Manchester City Art Gallery. One of her paintings was reputedly purchased by Queen Alexandra, wife of Edward VII.

High society portraits

In terms of her output, she produced portraits, still-lifes, genre scenes and fairy-tale subjects in different media. Her portraits, mostly executed in oil or pastel, mainly depict high society women or children and are probably her most notable works.

They were admired for their gentle brushwork, pleasant colouring and way of capturing ‘innocent-child’ subjects which were highly popular in the latter half of the 19th century.

While few have ever been sold on the secondary market at least, an auction record for the artist was set for one such picture at Sotheby’s in 2000 when a painting titled Mischief from 1896, showing a young girl knocking cards off a table, made a hammer price of £5000.

This record stood for 22 years until it was recently broken at Adam Partridge (20% buyer’s premium) of Macclesfield. A profile portrait of a young woman offered at the latest three-day auction on October 12-14 came from a private collection in north-west England which also yielded a Maw & Co Walter Crane vase that made £10,600 in the auction (see Auction Reports this week).

The 21¼ x 13½in (54 x 34cm) oil on canvas was signed and indistinctly dated. It appeared to be in original untouched condition when examined under UV light but had some minor signs of wear to both image and frame. The catalogue stated that it was purchased from the Walker Art Gallery in c.1900 and a fragment of a label on the back stated a handwritten price of £31.10.00. It also mentioned the artist’s address in London’s Gloucester Road where she lived from 1894.

Estimated at £300-500 at the auction, the picture attracted what the auction house described as “a huge amount of interest”. This was in part simply down to the quality of image and the untouched condition. But another important factor was the fact that the composition and features of the sitter had similarities to one of the figures in Small’s much larger work The Bride, which is now in Southwark Council’s art collection and is one of the few works by her that is publicly held.

After a strenuous competition in Cheshire, it was knocked down at £5200 to a buyer in the UK. Will this fresh record encourage more works by Small to come out of the woodwork?

Free-flowing de László


Woman by Candlelight by Philip de László – £8000 at Cheffins.

Another portrait of a woman at a recent sale in the English regions was an oil sketch by Philip de László (1869-1937). Woman by Candlelight, a 10 x 8in (26 x 21cm) oil on board, appeared in the Cheffins (24.5% buyer’s premium) Art & Design sale in Cambridge on October 27.

It was signed and dated 1932, making it a relatively late study. It was a loosely handled work compared to most of the artist’s finely executed portraits but nevertheless had its attractions as a free-flowing and spontaneous small sketch.

In an ornate frame, it was estimated at £800-1200 – a temping pitch for any work by de László – and it duly attracted strong interest.

After a fervent bidding battle, it was knocked down at £8000 online to a London-based private collector, easily outstripping the £550 it had made at its last auction appearance when it sold at Christie’s South Kensington in 2001 (where its title was given as A Lady with a Headdress Lighting a Candle).