Offered at Dreweatts (25% buyer’s premium) in Newbury, the works had provenance to Arthur Abraham Stambois (d.1972), an engineer and one of Bomberg’s main patrons. In 1961, they were sold as a group to Stanley Mann, the husband of the actress and dancer Eithne Maureen Mann (née Milne).
After the latter’s death in 2018 they passed to one of her close friends who was the vendor at the Newbury, Berkshire sale.
With 11 of the 14 lots selling at Dreweatts’ specialist Modern and Contemporary Art auction on October 19, they generated a £685,600 hammer total. The combined low estimate for the group was £638,000.
While the picture with the highest estimate failed to sell – the £200,000- 300,000 pitch for a 1934 view of Cuenca Cathedral proved a bit punchy – a bidding battle broke out for an earlier painting made on Bomberg’s 1923-24 trip to the Middle East.
The 23in x 2ft 6in (59 x 77cm) signed oil on canvas showed the archaeological site of Petra in Jordon – the ancient city hewn in situ from rock that famously featured in the blockbuster film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
One of the artist’s precisely handled realistic works (his preferred style during this period), it was painted on the spot rather than being worked up from sketches. With the mix of a monumental landscape and a detailed view of the ancient architecture, as well as the way the artist captured the intense heat and light of the setting, it found considerable appeal even against a £150,000-250,000 estimate.
It eventually sold at £390,000 to a UK private buyer, the highest price for the artist at any auction outside the capital. Only a handful of Middle Eastern paintings by the artist have made more.
A later and much more loosely painted view of the hills above Chrysostomos Monastery in northern Cyprus also drew demand. Produced with quick, fluid and brightly coloured brushstrokes, the oil on canvas from 1948 overshot a £80,000-120,000 pitch and sold at £160,000, again to a private buyer.
Further down the price scale, a couple of portraits by Bomberg generated interest.
A self-portrait from 1937 was estimated at £15,000-25,000 and sold at £24,000, while a painting of a seated woman which was brighter and more fully resolved took a £40,000 bid from a UK private buyer against a £20,000-30,000 estimate. The latter was a 3ft 1in x 2ft 4in (93 x 72cm) signed oil on canvas dated 31 and was believed to depict the artist’s wife Lilian.
Idyllic Sharp settings
As well as the Bombergs, three works by another well-known name in the Mod Brit sector, Dorothea Sharp (1874-1955), made a hefty contribution to the bottom line at Dreweatts. The pictures came from a private collection in Berkshire and all showed young children in idyllic settings – her trademark and much repeated subject.
The top lot of the group was an Impressionistic scene of a girl feeding geese. A 3ft 3in x 2ft 8in (99 x 81cm) oil on canvas from c.1910, it was a good-sized picture with an attractive early date. It overshot a £20,000-30,000 estimate and sold at £75,000 to a UK private buyer.
The sum, which represented notable growth on the £18,000 it had fetched at its last auction appearance at Sotheby’s in 1997, was also the highest price at auction for the artist in over eight years (source: Artprice).
Of a similar ilk, a painting titled Feeding the Ducks showing a girl standing by a pond surpassed a £15,000-25,000 estimate and sold at £65,000, while another work showing children playing in a rock pool made £22,000 against a £20,000- 30,000 pitch.
The latter had previously sold at twice at Christie’s: for £6000 in 1992 and £14,000 in 1997.
The Bombergs and Sharps lifted the hammer total of the Dreweatts sale to £1.78m from 218 lots.
Also looking Sharp
Sharp was also among the Mod Brit artists leading the line-up at a sale north of the border earlier this season. Great Western Auctions’ (24% buyer’s premium) autumn art sale in Glasgow on September 9 included three works by the artist.
One was titled Feeding Time, a 2ft 1in x 2ft 6in (62 x 75cm) signed oil on canvas. It had previously sold at £13,000 at Christie’s back in 2006. Again showing the steady growth in the Mod Brit market over the intervening period, here it was estimated at £20,000-30,000 and sold at £26,000 to a dealer from England.
The other two pictures were both smaller still-lifes, one titled A Mixed bunch that made an above estimate £8500, the other titled Still Life of Summer Flowers which went below estimate at £8000.
The top lot of the sale was a picture by another prolific artist, Keith Vaughan (1912-77) – a work on paper titled Landscape with Whistling Boy that, against an appealing £6000-8000 estimate, caught the imagination of bidders. In all seven phone bidders booked a line, predominantly dealers from south of the border.
The 11 x 15in (28 x 37cm) gouache and ink dated from 1945 and appeared at the artist’s second solo show which was held at London gallery Alex Reid & Lefevre the year after it was executed.
The well-preserved work dated from a key period in Vaughan’s development. It was inscribed Yorkshire 1945 on the back, possibly in the artist’s own hand.
In 1945, Vaughan, a conscientious objector during the Second World War who was conscripted into the Non-Combatant Corps, was stationed at Malton in Yorkshire where he worked as a clerk and German interpreter. His work (as well as his diaries) at the time was preoccupied by subjects such as loneliness, the horrors of war and the arrival of VE Day.
Landscape with Whistling Boy seemed to capture this sense of unsettling reality. An exhibition work with Lefevre provenance, it commanded strong interest before the sale and, on the day, it sold to a Scottish dealer at £29,000 after an intense competition.
The price appears to be the highest for a Vaughan work on paper sold at auction in the UK outside London.