Scotland’s rugged islands featured in two top-selling pictures at Mallams’ (25% buyer’s premium) latest Modern Art & Design auction.
First up in the May 18 auction in Oxford was a watercolour landscape by John Nash (1893-1977) featuring the Isle of Skye’s only whisky distillery, Talisker.
The artist made the first of his regular trips to Skye in 1957. The distillery, with its dramatic location on the shores of Loch Harport close to the Cullins mountain range, became a favoured painting spot.
The 18 x 23in (45 x 58cm) watercolour is typical of Nash’s rural landscapes with its swirling trees, distorted foreshortening of perspective and quarry-scarred land.
It was exhibited at Nash’s major show at the Royal Academy in 1967 and came to auction with four other works on paper by the artist from the estate of Patrick Dockar-Drysdale (1929-2020), an Oxford graduate and a Canadian linguistics expert who resided at Wick Hall in Radley near Abingdon (see ATG no. 2536).
Mallams described the condition as ‘generally good’ with a single fox mark in the sky and a little age staining around the mount.
Together with an appealing estimate of £3000-5000, it was well contested to the tune of £19,000. The winning bid came from a trade buyer over the phone.
While several landscapes by Nash have sold for significantly more – an inter-war scene of Buckinghamshire in oils made £300,000 last year at Christie’s for example – the price is one of the highest at auction for a post-war watercolour.
After the sale, Mallams specialist Max Fisher described the picture as “an outstanding example of Nash’s later watercolours”.
Is Nash finally stepping out from the shadow of his older brother Paul? The publication of a biography in 2020, a major show at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne last year and some recent bullish prices on the secondary market would suggest so.
The watercolour led Mallams’ specialist sale, which posted a mid-estimate £370,000 total.
Gillies in the Scottish rain…
The other top-selling Scottish work was a 2ft 4in x 3ft 8in (72cm x 1.13m) oil on canvas by William George Gillies (1898-1973) depicting a rainy scene on the Isle of Arran – a much frequented spot by artists off the west coast.
Rain Over Arran had been exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1972 and came with provenance to Edinburgh dealer Aitken Dott & Son.
Unlike the Nash, it had been on the market recently, failing to sell at Bonhams in 2017 when estimated at £10,000-15,000. With a revised valuation at Mallams it got away to a trade buyer on the phone for a top-estimate £10,000.
Despite being regarded as an influential figure in 20th century Scottish painting (he trained and taught at Edinburgh College of Art, becoming principal there in 1959), Gillies has never been widely collected on the secondary market.
The painter’s preference for watercolour and the large volume of work he produced have affected his commercial appeal.
According to artprice.com, the auction record for a Gillies work stands at £22,000, the sum paid at Phillips back in 2001 for a still-life scene titled The Yellow Table.
…Sickert soggy street scene
Elsewhere, a box-ticking lot in the form of a small oil by Camden Town Group artist-in-chief Walter Sickert (1860-1942) more than doubled its top estimate to sell for £14,000.
Figures in the Rain, a signed and undated 10 x 7in (26 x 18cm) oil on canvas, was knocked down to an online private bidder. A typically gloomy and foreboding scene, it had been owned by the late Goya authority and Spanish literature scholar Prof Nigel Glendinning and featured an old gallery label verso for Ernest Brown & Phillips.
There were also two later works by popular Modern British painter Mary Fedden (1915-2012) both bid into the five figures. Garden View, a typical example of Fedden’s of flower paintings and still-lifes, sold to a private buyer via the internet for £17,000 against a £8000-12,000 estimate. It was signed and dated 1993 and came to Mallams from a vendor who purchased it from the Portland Gallery in London where it was exhibited in 2009.
The other work, Irises, a similarly sized 23 x 20in (60 x 50cm) oil on board, was knocked down at £10,000. It was also exhibited at the Portland Gallery in 2009 but compositionally less dynamic.
Bissill buyer digs deep
Elsewhere, the sale set an auction record for the English mining artist George Bissill (1896-1973) with football-themed oil A Diving Save.
It was included in a third tranche of paintings, drawings and prints at Mallams consigned by an Oxford vendor whose father had known the Derbyshire painter and inherited the contents of his Hampshire home and studio.
Comprising mostly nudes and mining subjects, around half the 20 lots sold to total just under £10,000 with A Diving Save taking £3200 online against a £600-800 guide.
The previous record, according to Artprice, was for a pencil drawing titled The Student (1926) which sold at Chiswick Auctions in July 2020 for £2625.