In the Park by William Roberts – £130,000 at Bonhams.

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A group of four works from the estate of Lady Cylla Dugdale (1931-2018) was the stand-out consignment at Bonhams’ (27.5/25/20/14.5% buyer’s premium) latest Modern British and Irish Art sale.

Lady Dugdale was a daughter of a baronet and she married another (Sir William Dugdale). She was also an avid collector of 20th century British art as well as being no mean painter herself.

Bonhams offered eight works from her collection in November last year, six of which sold for a solid total of £330,250 (including premium).

They included a view of a church in West Hampstead by Sir William Coldstream (1908-87) that flew past a £4000-6000 estimate to fetch £35,000 (reported in ATG No 2472), and a work titled Munitions Factory from 1940 by William Roberts (1895-1980) that was knocked down at £160,000.

Park life

The four pictures at the more recent auction in London on November 24 were all by leading names in the market. They included another attractive but earlier example of Roberts’ trademark paintings showing colourful groups of figures with distinctive tubular limbs.

In the Park dated from c.1925 and was one of a series of works representing scenes from the artist’s own life. Roberts had met his wife-to-be Sarah Kramer in 1915 and, on his return from war service in 1918 both as a combatant and later a war artist, the couple settled down and he began to paint scenes of what might be described as ‘family subjects’.

A number depict London’s parks – such as Bank Holiday in the Park from 1923 and Figures in the Park from c.1924. The works were among those that helped establish his reputation which had been growing since he held his first solo (and commercially successful) exhibition in 1923.

Given its date, subject, bright colours and provenance (Lady Dugdale acquired it from dealer Michael Parkin Fine Art), the 12 x 14in (31 x 36cm) signed oil on canvas had a lot going in its favour for a relatively small work.

The estimate of £70,000-100,000 proved well pitched and it attracted decent interest before the sale and at the auction itself. It was knocked down at £130,000 to a UK private buyer, a sum that, while admittedly a bit less than the price for Munitions Factory, compared well to other Roberts pictures of a similar scale.

Nicholson's lilies


Lilies of the Valley by William Nicholson – £190,000 at Bonhams.

Also bringing strong bidding, a still-life by Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949) proved to be the leading light of the Dugdale group and topped the sale overall.

Lilies of the Valley dated from 1927 and was a well-known work, having been much exhibited over the years including at the dedicated 1995-96 show at Eastbourne’s Towner Art Gallery (it subsequently travelled to Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge and Nottingham Castle Museum).

The 15½ x 10½in (39 x 27cm) signed oil on panel was described by Sanford Schwartz in his 2004 biography of Nicholson as having a “masterful laying of tones”. He also wrote that it appeared to have been painted “with breakneck speed”.

Although stylistically somewhat different to Nicholson’s earlier still-lifes, it was admired for its bold brushstrokes and elegant technique which meant the £60,000-80,000 guide did not look excessive to a number of bidders.

After good competition on the day, it sold at £190,000 to a UK bidder on the phone, setting the fourth-highest price for the artist at auction (only exceeded by three earlier still-lifes from 1909-21).

Craxton in Crete


Portrait of an Old Man (Old Cretan) by John Craxton – £26,000 at Bonhams.

Making a lesser sum but bringing solid interest was a John Craxton (1922-2009) portrait drawing which tipped over a £12,000-18,000 pitch and sold at £26,000.

Rather different to the artist’s larger and more experimental oil paintings which can easily make six-figures, this 23 x 18½in (58 x 47cm) signed conté crayon and pencil sketch of an old Cretan man dated from 1948.

Craxton lived and worked in Crete from 1946-66 and moved permanently to the island in 1970. The drawings he produced there have a good following and this one benefited from a good early date. It was first owned by Lady Peter Norton, the gallerist and friend and supporter of the artist. Having since changed hands twice since, Lady Dugdale acquired it from dealer Jonathan Clarke in 2012.

While the record for a Craxton drawing remains the 1946 sketch of Lucian Freud that took £40,000 at Christie’s sale of the Brian Sewell collection in September 2016, this example easily outsold a smaller and later drawing of a younger man (David ‘Tivvy’ Simpson) that had sold at Bonhams in July for £3000.

The only slight disappointment among the Dugdale lots was a painting of figures punting on the Thames by CRW Nevinson (1889- 1946). It went below its £50,000- 80,000 estimate and sold at £42,000. Hampton Court was perhaps the one work in the consignment lacking market freshness having been bought by Lady Dugdale after it failed to get away in the same rooms in July 2016.

Andrews landscape


Landscape by Michael Andrews – £130,000 at Bonhams.

Elsewhere in the sale, a landscape by Michael Andrews (1928-95) which came from a separate source attracted interest against a £50,000-80,000 estimate.

Works by Andrews are not abundant on the market – he was a notoriously slow painter and his output was not huge – and few pictures have emerged in the last five years. The 2ft 2in x 22in (67 x 56cm) signed oil on canvas came to auction from a UK private collection and looked an attractive proposition for an interesting painting by a highly rated figure in 20th century British art.

Early on, the artist was associated with the so-called School of London painters such as Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach.

However, while his figurative pictures are hardly ever available, commercially his epic depictions of Australia, the Scottish Highlands and his native Norfolk have become his most important works and have generated an international following. His auction record stands at a £1.05m for a large painting of the Australian outback that sold at Sotheby’s in June 2016.

The current landscape depicted an unknown scene but the catalogue suggested that the topography pointed to Digswell in Hertfordshire which appears in other Andrews works. The economic technique, pared-down details and careful tonal rendering of the scene were all well regarded and, along with the rarity factor, encouraged admirers to bid.

It sold at £130,000 to a US phone bidder, the highest price for Andrews at auction for five years (source: Artprice by Artmarket).

The sale total at Bonhams 59-lot sale was £2.48m with 82% sold by lot and 92% by value.

When added to the amount generated for the British and Irish art auctions at Christie’s in October and Sotheby’s in November, the final series total was £35.3m. This was around double that of last November and the highest since the £47.2m raised in November 2018.