Portrait of Chloë Boughton-Leigh by Gwen John – £45,000 at Sworders.

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The top picture from the consignment was a portrait sketch by Gwen John (1876-1939) that was offered at the Essex firm’s Modern and Contemporary Art sale on October 4.

Depicting Chloë Boughton-Leigh, the 8 x 6in (20 x 15cm) pencil and grey wash was one of numerous sketches of the sitter who was part of John’s intimate circle, along with her sister Maude. Her full name was Ellen Theodosia Boughton-Leigh and she had studied at the Slade where John was a student between 1894-7.

Larger painted portraits of the sitter by John can be found in collection at the Tate Britain as well as Leeds Art Gallery, while she was also the model for John’s Woman Holding a Flower now in Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery.

This sketch at Sworders had remained with the artist and was part of her estate when she died.

It was shown at the Gwen John memorial exhibition at London gallery Matthiesen in 1946 (where it was believed to depict a different sitter, Fenella Lovell). The exhibition did much to establish her posthumous reputation. It had then appeared at another retrospective dedicated to the artist organised by the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1968.

Since then, however, prices for John have risen greatly and, more recently, she has benefited from the commercial boost for works by leading female artists. It has also been suggested that a certain erotic element in some of her portraits of women (John had a number of same-sex relationships) has led to extra interest on the current market.

In any case, this drawing of one of John’s most important sitters was always likely to exceed the £3000-5000 estimate.

On the day, after a strong competition, it was knocked down at £45,000 to a private London buyer – an auction record for a drawing by the artist (source: Artprice).

Hodgkin in detail


Tulip and Iris Bulbs by Eliot Hodgkin – £13,000 at Sworders.

Elsewhere in the Baer collection, decent bidding emerged on a small Eliot Hodgkin (1905-87) painting that overshot a £6000-8000 pitch and sold at £13,000. It too was knocked down to a private London buyer.

The Berkshire-born artist was a cousin of abstract painter Howard Hodgkin and had a life-long fascination for depicting plant forms.

The 4 x 5in (10 x 13cm) signed tempera on board here dated from 1953 and was a trademark example of his highly detailed studies of small natural objects, such as turnips, lemons and eggs, that he began to focus on from the 1930s onwards. This one depicted tulip and iris bulbs.

The artist was one whose work was regularly sold by Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, with this study featuring as part of the gallery’s 1999 exhibition Eliot Hodgkin - Painter & Collector.

The price at Sworders was a solid mid-range sum for the artist.

Overall, the Baer collection contributed 25 pictures to Sworders’ Modern and Contemporary Art sale which together raised a hammer total of £147,500. All bar one lot sold.