'Portrait of Mr Pocock' by Anna Airy – £14,500 at Mallams.

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Studying at Slade from 1899-1903, she won the Melville Nettleship Prize several times as well as a suite of other prizes. She went on to exhibit at the Fine Art Society and Carfax Gallery, and later her work was shown at the Royal Academy and The Royal Society of British Artists. The latter held a ‘jubilee’ exhibition devoted to her in 1952.

Today Airy’s works can be found in the V&A and the Imperial War Museum. Indeed she was one of the first women war artists employed in 1918 by the newly founded museum when she was commissioned to paint a series of views of munitions factories.

Commercially, while she does have a notable presence on the market, her work stands some way behind many of her contemporaries partly due to the fact that the best examples rarely appear.

Airy’s auction record dates back to 1994 when Bonhams sold a busy and bright interior scene of a flower shop for £50,000. Could it be time for her to re-enter the limelight?

Future husband

An important painting appeared at Mallams’ (25% buyer’s premium) Modern Art and Design sale in Oxford on December 8-9. Dating from 1908, it was a portrait of Geoffrey Buckingham Pocock, the artist whom she would marry eight years later.

The 2ft 9in x 3ft (85 x 91cm) signed oil on canvas came to auction via direct descent from the artist and is the first of a series of Airy paintings from the source that Mallams will offer this year.

While she painted still-lifes, interiors and figurative scenes, portraits are rarer in her oeuvre, although not unheard of. Judging by the current picture, she certainly had no little flair in terms of observation, composition and execution.

A number of parties clearly regarded the picture favourably and did not feel the £2000-3000 estimate to be excessive. After attracting considerable interest before the sale, it generated a strong competition on the day and took £14,500 from a private collector.

The price was the highest at auction for one of the artist’s conventional portraits and the seventh highest overall (source: Artprice). It will now be interesting to see if the other works from the family consignment meet a similar reaction and whether Airy becomes a name to watch in 2022.