“It’s quite hard these days to get a price for a Victorian watercolour that makes you feel like you are back in that boom period again in the late 1980s, when works like this were just romping away.”
The watercolour in question was a Venetian view by the prolific landscape painter Albert Goodwin (1845-1932), which sold online at Lawrences (22.5% buyer’s premium) of Crewkerne on October 12 for £16,000 – four times its top guide – much to the delight of picture specialist Richard Kay.
Goodwin was a protégé of John Ruskin and found inspiration in nature, the art of Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites. He often sketched en plein air and then completed his works from memory in the studio, sometimes many years later.
The signed 10½ x 15in (26.5 x 37.5cm) watercolour, which had a little pale foxing but otherwise was in good condition, had been exhibited at Guildhall in 1896 and had provenance to The Leger Galleries. It was secured by the London trade with the price paid being one of the highest at auction for a Goodwin over the last decade.
Kay said: “This had beautiful draughtsmanship throughout, a nice little informal figure group in the foreground and the light was fantastic – a clear crisp fresh light that is quite uniquely Italian. It was a very easy picture to like.”
Politician plus collector
The work was consigned along with a dozen other Goodwin watercolours as part of the picture collection of Lord Peyton of Yeovil, a former Conservative politician who briefly served in Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet.
The rest of the Goodwins, which Peyton also sourced from London galleries (some still with receipts), encompassed an array of subjects including views of Cairo, Pisa, Venezuela, Niagara Falls and Milan Cathedral.
“Peyton would have been an interesting man to have stood alongside when he was spending his money because frankly buying pictures by Albert Goodwin in the 1970s before [London dealer] Chris Beetles made the great fanfare that he did with Goodwin was quite a prescient thing to do”, said Kay.
The majority of works dated between 1905-15 and ranged in estimates from £250 to £4000 depending on the subject and size. All found buyers, adding over £20,000 to the total, with many selling to the London trade in or around pre-sale hopes.
“Quite simply, when you offer the market something that has a good combination of things – condition is good, the provenance is good, and the estimate is tempting – people like it”, said Kay.
Another popular landscapist Peyton collected was Edward Seago (1910-74). The four works offered at Lawrences showcased Seago’s varied output with two continental scenes in watercolour, a Norfolk oil landscape and a London scene painted during the queen’s coronation in 1953.
Seago produced the coronation work, a signed 7 x 10½in (18.5 x 27cm) watercolour of a Union Jack-festooned Strand, in his role as an official artist for the event in London – his most direct link to British royalty and their patronage. The queen later selected one of Seago’s works as the most successful depiction of the coronation procession.
The picture at the Somerset auction attracted multiple bids before it was knocked down to the trade over top estimate at £7500, while the other three sold for a combined £18,000.
“London and Seago is a very attractive combination. Particularly if you can link it to something as resonant in our history let alone in our current consciousness as the coronation – we had it at the perfect time”, said Kay.
Seago’s coronation views are scarce (his coastal subjects and East Anglia landscapes are far more prevalent) so they attract a high level of interest. Lawrences sold a larger coronation oil painting, Piccadilly by the Ritz, for £62,000 in 2018.
Another strong performer from the Peyton collection was one of Thomas Allom’s (1804-72) original detailed illustrations of China.
Purchased from the Martyn Gregory Gallery in 1977, the 5 x 7in (12 x 18.5cm) pencil and sepia work, depicting The Grand Temple at Poo-Too on Chusan Islands, sold via thesaleroom.com above top estimate for £2000 – a respectable sum for a work of this size by the artist.
The well-travelled Allom, who was renowned in his day as an architect rather than a topographical illustrator, produced the work for his popular four-volume set of views of China.