A small bronze by Martin Jennings (b.1957) of the poet Sir John Betjeman was offered at Dreweatts (25% buyer’s premium) in Newbury on October 19.
It was a reduced model of his larger-than-life version which has stood in St Pancras station since the opening of the Eurostar terminal in 2007 (it measures over 8ft high).
The founder of The Victorian Society, Betjeman was passionate about the railways and Victorian architecture and he campaigned to save the station from demolition in the 1960s.
Building a rapport
Speaking about the process behind creating the statue, Jennings said: “Part of my intention was to make a triangular relationship between sculpture, poetry and architecture, so that the figure is directly related to the building.”
As part of this approach, Betjeman’s coat-tail in the sculpture was designed to emulate the shape of the station’s Barlow train shed roof.
The 16 x 5¾in (41 x 15cm) high figure in Newbury, which was signed and stamped to the base, was one of an edition of 20 released by Pangolin Editions.
Works by Jennings are almost exclusively sold on the primary market currently and few have ever appeared at auction. A small bronze model of fellow poet Philip Larkin though did appear at Mallams of Oxford in 2015, making £800.
The auction house plumped for a £2000-3000 estimate but, after a good competition, it was eventually knocked down at £6000 to a UK private buyer.
Head of sale Francesca Whitham said: “The price achieved for the piece by Jennings was particularly exciting, being a contemporary artist on the secondary market. The work was sold alongside the announcement that Jennings was commissioned to design the royal mint depicting King Charles III; this certainly raised the profile of the artist and press around the sculpture.”
Lowry gets ahead
Meanwhile, the Tennants (22% buyer’s premium) sale of Modern & Contemporary Art on October 15 featured a head study of artist LS Lowry.
The bronze by Samuel Tonkiss (1909-92), which measured 13in (33cm) high (including the base), was formerly owned by a lady from the north west of England.
It was part of an edition of 36 produced in 1975 and modelled on an earlier Lowry head sculpted by Tonkiss in 1971 which is in the National Portrait Gallery.
Tonkiss was born in Shropshire and later worked as a journalist in Todmorden in West Yorkshire (he was editor of the Todmorden News and Advertiser for 21 years). Encouraged by the local artist and writer William Holt and sculptor Dante Alberti, at the age of 50 he started creating clay sculptures and produced a series of portrait busts, many of which were cast in small limited editions such as this.
With his head studies admired for their resemblance and sensitivity, he was ‘never out of work’ and, as well as Lowry, Tonkiss was commissioned to produced bronzes of the likes of the Duke of Edinburgh, Sir Edward Elgar, Bertrand Russell, John Cockcroft and even Nikita Kruschev (a head for the Soviet Embassy in London).
Examples of the Lowry bronze have appeared at auction on at least a dozen occasions with the highest sum so far being the £3000 for an example which appeared at Sotheby’s back in 2000.
Here the estimate was set at £700-1000 and it was knocked down at £2200 to a private client from the north of England. This was the joint second-highest price for the edition according to Artprice – another version made the same hammer price at Bonhams in 2019.