Among them was Sheila Fell’s (1931-79) Hayfield, Brayton Road, Aspatria which was knocked down to a private collector in the north-east of England for £30,000 (plus 22.5% buyer’s premium), twice the bottom estimate and one of the artist’s highest prices at auction.
Consigned from a local deceased estate where it had been since the 1970s, the 19½ x 23½in (50 x 60cm) oil depicted farmhands working on great stacks of yellow strawbales and was described by Lawrences picture specialist Richard Kay as “a really lovely example” with a palette that was brighter than many of her works.
The picture had some slight craquelure in the sky and needed a light clean. A label on the back stated it had been acquired from the Ashgate Gallery in Surrey in 1973 for £225 – around £2000 in today’s money when adjusted for inflation, indicating the strength of the current market for the Cumbrian artist’s landscapes.
“The result was a strong ringing endorsement of how much in demand she is, and she has far outstripped inflation in terms of her prices. She is on the crest of a wave at the moment”, said Kay.
The result at Lawrences came on the back of an equally strong performance for the similar harvest scene Haymaking at Miller’s Farm which sold in July at Anderson & Garland for £30,000 to a private buyer from London.
Pioneering art school
A depiction of the interior of Heatherley School of Fine Art in London as it appeared in c.1902 was taken to £5500 by the London trade against a £1500-2000 estimate.
One of the oldest independent art schools in London, founded in 1845, Heatherleys is notable for being first to admit women to the life room on equal terms with men.
The 23 x 19in (60 x 50cm) oil on canvas was painted by the relatively unknown painter Nellie Joshua (1877-1960) – believed to be one of the two students depicted wearing matching blue painting smocks – and includes the school’s large collection of historical dress, ceramics and armour which formed a costume studio for the use of students.
The same picture had sold at Christie’s back in 1999 for £3500 and is one of only four recorded works by Joshua to have appeared at auction.
“The subject matter was unusual, distinctive and eye catching, and we are all quite rightly celebrating female artists more than we used to. The picture taps in perfectly to the idea of women rubbing shoulders on a par with men and that strikes a chord in the current market”, said Kay.
Bidders also turned their attention to a pair of large arched topped oils by Robert Baker (1909-92).
Measuring over 4ft 3in (1.3m) high, they formed part of a commission he undertook in the early 1930s to paint murals at a working men’s college, Coleg Harlech, a Workers Educational Association and the largest provider of adult community learning in Wales.
“People like pictures that sum up the era in which they were painted and these are very much of their era”, said Kay.
Depicting men in the staff room and library, the pictures were knocked down to the same buyer “with a Welsh connection” for £4000 and £4800 respectively, more than double the top guides.