Lessons, a watercolour by Helen Allingham, £64,000 at Philip Serrell.

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The highpoint of the market is often said to be Christie’s sale of the Marley collection of Allingham watercolours back in September 1991 – a sale that resulted in bullish prices throughout, including a record £42,000 for the artist. That benchmark price, achieved by a picture of the artist’s thatched cottage in Surrey, has stood ever since.

Although the market has undoubtedly become more selective since then, that record was finally broken on July 20 when Malvern, Worcestershire, saleroom Philip Serrell (20% buyer’s premium) offered a group of 20 works by the artist.

While most sold for decent, if fairly routine, sums in the low thousands, two pictures achieved spectacularly more.

A signed watercolour of two children receiving a lesson from their governess drew strong interest against an £8000-12,000 estimate.

The picture is thought to depict Allingham’s children Gerald and Eva in the dining room at Sandhills, the cottage near Witley where she and her family moved to in 1881 and she developed her fame and reputation for painting cottages and rustic scenes.

Measuring 14 x 19in (36 x 50cm), it had been exhibited at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition in Manchester in 1887 and had also been selected to appear as a plate in Happy England, a book she published in 1903 with Marcus Bourne Huish, a writer and art dealer who had been editor of The Art Journal and was the first managing director of the Fine Art Society. Huish’s commentary stated this picture was important due to its size and being “full of charm in every part”.

A few Allingham collectors may have remembered its last auction appearance when it was bid to £36,000 at Phillips in 1988 – a sum that set a major record for Allingham at the time.

Here again it drew strong demand with over five minutes of bidding. It was knocked down at £64,000 – an eyecatching result even if it was less than the 1988 sum adjusting for inflation (a price that would equate to over £100,000 now).

Well-known image


Foxgloves, another watercolour by Helen Allingham, £23,000 at Philip Serrell.

A few lots beforehand at the Worcestershire sale, another signed Allingham watercolour that had featured in Happy England outstripped a £2000-4000 estimate and sold at £23,000.

Depicting a girl carrying sticks in a field with foxgloves, it was a well-known image that remains a popular fine art print. Measuring 12½ x 14in (32 x 36cm), it was described in the catalogue as in good condition with no rips or tears.

Again it had previously appeared at auction some time ago, in this case fetching £18,200 at Woolley & Wallis of Salisbury in 1994.

While the price at Philip Serrell was certainly significant in terms of any work by Allingham on the current market, again it was below the inflation-adjusted equivalent from the earlier sale.