So it probably was not too much of a surprise that, when one did emerge at Reeman Dansie’s (20% buyer’s premium) recent East Anglian art and antiques sale, it drew strong interest and posted the highest price for a picture at the sale on September 28.
The son of a machine-worker and union activist, Fitton started work aged 14 and attended evening classes at Manchester School of Art where, among others, he met LS Lowry.
Having moved to London as a younger man, the 1930s were probably his most active period as he made his name as a versatile and perceptive draughtsman, working as a painter, printmaker and an advertising and poster designer.
While Fitton was appointed art director for the C Vernon and Sons advertising agency, he also staged his first solo show at Arthur Tooth and Sons in 1933 and exhibited works at the Royal Academy and the New English Art Club during this period.
On offer at the Colchester sale was a scene of Swanage beach in Dorset which dated from c.1933. The 2ft 2in x 2ft 6in (65 x 76cm) oil on board had appeared in an important exhibition dedicated to Fitton at London gallery Crane Kalman in 2004-05.
According to a review in The Spectator, the show offered a reassessment of the artist in terms of his place in the Modern British canon and this work was admired for capturing “the bracingness of British beach life under canvas”.
Titled The Beach Tent, Swanage, it had been part of the collection of the designer and architect Douglas Shepherd (1922-89) and was consigned by a descendant.
Shepherd was a serious collector of Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau in the 1950s-70s and, while his book collection was subsequently sold at Sotheby’s, his silver collection with pieces by the likes of Archibald Knox was sold at Reeman Dansie in 2013.
The Fitton picture also proved a valuable consignment for the Essex firm. Estimated at £5000-7000, it drew a number of parties and, after a strong bidding battle, sold online at £16,000 to an East Anglian client.
The sum was a record for Fitton at auction, surpassing two works, Esplanade and Down by the Quayside, that both fetched £13,000 at Sotheby’s in 1998 and 2000 respectively.