Together the 68 lots in this category made a useful contribution to the overall total of £445,000 from 839 lots, the second-highest-ever for a sale at the Glasgow saleroom.
The sale benefited from four deceased estates that provided the bulk of the pictures: two from Glasgow, one from Fife and the other from the north of Scotland.
The top-selling 19th century work on paper, fetching many multiples of its estimate, was a charcoal and pastel portrait of a general by John Frederick Lewis (1804-76).
While demand for traditional 19th century watercolours is generally more selective than a decade ago, and prices have shifted downwards in some cases, the interest in this 15¾ x 11in (40 x 28cm) study showed how bidders will still emerge so long as works are pitched accordingly.
Here the estimate was set at £700-1000, a level that was not excessive for a portrait study by a painter whose works of this kind generally sell for £10,000 upwards.
This example was indistinctly signed and inscribed General…. Constantinople (some bidders may well have been able to identify the sitter). It had a few condition issues including some foxing to the right side and some light discolouration but this did not deter bidders for a keenly estimated and characterful sketch by a major name in British Orientalism.
After a strong competition, it sold for £15,000 to a private buyer from the south of England.
Melville in Morocco
Another attractively pitched 19th century work bringing demand was a small watercolour by Scottish artist Arthur Melville (1855-1904).
The Moroccan street scene was a bright and loosely handled work measuring 8½ x 14¼in (22 x 37cm) and showed why his supporters believe he is one of the most innovative Scottish painters of his generation and one who had an important impact on watercolour as an art form. This theme was explored in a 2015 exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland which was dedicated to the artist, titled Adventures in Colour.
The condition here was also generally sound despite some light foxing. Estimated at £3000-5000, it drew plenty of interest and eventually sold at £13,000, again to a private buyer from the south of England.
Melville watercolours can certainly fetch more (up to £50,000 according to Artprice) but this was a significant sum given its size.
The performance of this lot had followed another watercolour by the artist drawing interest shortly beforehand at the Lyon & Turnbull (25% buyer’s premium) sale in Edinburgh on June 16.
Measuring 20in x 2ft 2in (51 x 66cm), this view of Duddingston Loch was a larger work but with more muted colours and depicted a subject that the artist returned to many times. But, again, the estimate was set at an appealing level, in this case £2000-3000, and it overshot predictions to take £10,000.
These results showed how the market for Melville seems to belie the selectivity present elsewhere in the 19th century watercolours market – something also witnessed for the Glasgow Boys generally (James Guthrie et al), of whom Melville is considered a forerunner and close associate.
Gillies and Blackadder
Back at Great Western, among the 20th century works on paper generating interest were pictures by Sir William George Gillies (1898-1973) and Elizabeth Blackadder (1931-2021).
A 20in x 2ft 1in (51 x 64cm) watercolour signed by Gillies – one of numerous works by the artist that come up regularly at auction – depicted the village of Kippford on Scotland’s Solway coast and showed fishing boats in the harbour. It had labels on the back for Bourne Fine Art as well as an Ewen Mundy Fine Art exhibition.
With bright colours and an attractive subject, it overshot a £1500-2500 estimate and sold to the Scottish trade at £7500.
The Blackadder watercolour also sold to the trade, going over a £6000-10,000 pitch and fetching £12,000. The watercolour, Rosie, Coco and Orchids, dated from 1984 and depicted two of her beloved cats (the feline theme was a regular feature in her work).
The first woman to be elected to both the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Academy, the result continued the good run of auction results since Blackadder’s death last August.
Among the more affordable works on paper at the GWA sale was an ink and gouache by the Scottish draughtsman Sir Muirhead Bone (1876-1953). Signed and inscribed by the famous etcher and watercolourist, it was executed in 1897 and depicted the Glasgow Agricultural Show taking place in Queen’s Park that year.
Estimated at £300-500, it sold at £700 to a private Edinburgh buyer – a price showing how many works on paper, even high quality examples by significant names, are quietly bought and sold under the radar for sums that represent exceptional value.