Haymaking at Miller’s Farm, a 19¾in x 23½in (50 x 60cm) signed oil on canvas, came to auction from a descendent of Donald Gow, an art correspondent for The Times.
He had purchased it from The Stone Gallery in Newcastle in 1969 and the auction lot included a copy of the original gallery catalogue.
The prices of Fell’s work have risen considerably over the last 20 years as her evocative views of the northern landscape have commanded more attention both commercially and curatorially.
Attention on her work was also boosted by the publication of Cate Haste’s biography Sheila Fell: A Passion for Paint in 2010.
Shortly afterwards, the market for Fell’s pictures reached a new level with the painting Mechi Farm, Cumberland setting an auction record when it made £31,500 at Cockermouth saleroom Mitchells in September 2010, which was followed by the £38,000 for Houses in Winter, Cumberland at the same firm six months later. The latter still holds the auction record for the artist.
The picture in Newcastle had plenty going for it with its heavy impasto technique and warm colours creating a moody and languid atmosphere, adding to its attractive provenance and market freshness as a commercial proposition.
At the auction on July 20-21, it drew plenty of interest against a £15,000-25,000 estimate before coming down to a battle between different bidders on the phone.
It was eventually knocked down at £30,000 to a private buyer from London.
Only the two above-mentioned works sold at Mitchells have ever made more for Fell at auction.
One of the pictures with an unusual but highly topical subject at Anderson & Garland’s sale was a depiction of the Azovstal steelworks in Ukraine.
The site of the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the Siege of Mariupol, the enormous metallurgical plant has now almost been completely destroyed by Russian bombardment and was finally taken by the invaders in May after 82 days of fighting.
The 13 x 2ft 1in (33 x 63cm) oil on canvas at the Newcastle auction was painted by Ukrainian artist Georgyi Georyievich Chernyavsky (1924- 81) in 1966. He had graduated from Kyiv Art Institute a decade earlier and went on to teach there in the 1970s. An exhibition of his work was held at the Museum of Ukrainian Painting in Dnipro in 2019.
Most of his pictures were Impressionistic in style, as was the case here.
Titled Morning, it came to auction from a vendor in South Shields who had bought it from a junk shop in St Petersburg when he was based there in 1994.
He paid around about $100. “It’s been on my wall ever since, always with a question mark as to where it was”, he said. “When I bought it, all they could tell me was that they thought it might be in Ukraine somewhere.”
It was only during the recent conflict that, seeing the same industrial landscape pictured on TV, he realised the setting of the painting. “Every time I see the picture on my wall I think of the horror of what the Russians are doing, and it really affects me.”
The vendor has known John Anderson of Anderson & Garland for 40 years and, after a recent visit from his auctioneering pal, decided to sell it and donate all the proceeds to a suitable Ukrainian charity.
“This painting is perhaps one of the only remaining depictions of the Azovstal steelworks in Ukraine, as it stood before”, said Anderson. “It may be unique. Not only is it is superbly painted, but the work holds great historical significance too.”
Estimated at £500-800 at the July 20-21 sale, it sold at £1300 to a private buyer from the north-west with all proceeds, including the buyer’s premium, going to the ‘With Ukraine’ charity fund.
Chernyavsky has seemingly no track record at auction in the UK so, although a charity sale, it was also a benchmark price.