Cowslips by George Dunlop Leslie (1835-1921) was a large painting exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1877. It demonstrated how the artist began to move away from the Pre-Raphaelite style of his early work as he increasingly painted scenes of everyday life in a more academic and uniform manner during this period.
These gentle compositions, which the critic John Ruskin praised as depicting the “sweet quality of English girlhood”, can today be somewhat difficult to shift as they feel a bit chocolate-boxy to modern minds.
Yet, offered with a sufficiently low estimate, it drew significant competition at the sale in Leyburn, North Yorkshire, on March 18.
The 4ft 7in x 3ft 5in (1.4 x 1.05m) oil on canvas came to auction as part of the collection from Denton Hall, now a popular wedding and shoot venue in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, that provided Tennants with 23 works at the current sale. The property was previously owned by the Bailey family, who run engineering firm NG Bailey, until it was sold earlier in 2022.
The same consignment yielded the John Atkinson Grimshaw painting Silvery Moonlight that made £90,000 at Tennants back in November (see ATG No 2572).
Cowslips is known to have sold at Christie’s in 1910 although it is unclear exactly when it came to Denton. The Tennants catalogue described it as in ‘overall good and stable state of preservation’ with only minor retouching and no obvious areas of damage visible under UV light.
Major works by Leslie such as this are pretty rare on the market and, estimated at £10,000-15,000, it attracted a number of established buyers in the Victorian sector, both trade and private, who deemed it as a good opportunity to acquire one. After a lengthy competition it was knocked down at £91,000 to a private UK buyer. The price stands within the top 10 auction sums for Leslie.
Overall, the 23 works from Denton Hall realised a combined hammer total of £176,550.
Quiet spot for a read
Another Victorian picture from the consignment was Dr Harvey and the children of Charles I at the Battle of Edgehill by William Yeames (1835-1918).
Dating from c.1871, it was a slightly curious scene derived from a historical subject showing the tutor of the young princes absorbed in his meditations at the outset of the famous English Civil War battle. Indeed, the artist’s most famous work titled And When Did You Last See Your Father? is also based on a civil war subject.
Again it was a large work and an RA exhibit. The signed oil on canvas measured 5ft 3in x 3ft 6in (1.61 x 1.07m). Estimated at £7000-10,000, the auction house reported trade and private interest and it was knocked down at £8500 to a UK private buyer. According to Artprice, it was the sixth highest sum for Yeames at auction.
Overall, the 93-lot auction raised a hammer total of £281,100 with an 88% selling rate.