Swabbing the blade by Harry Becker, £11,000 at Lacy Scott & Knight.

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The market-fresh depiction of a man with a large scythe appeared at the Bury St Edmunds saleroom Lacy Scott & Knight (22.5% buyer’s premium).

Scenes of rural labourers became the Colchester-born artist’s main subject matter after he moved to Wenhaston, a small village in north-east Suffolk, in 1913.

The 14½ x 17¾in (37 x 45cm) oil on canvas board came to auction from a Woodbridge-based private collector who had purchased it locally from the Simon Carter Gallery in the Suffolk town back in 1981.

The vendor, who had paid £300 for it, had since loaned it in 1993 to a retrospective of the artist’s work staged by Ipswich Borough Council Museums & Galleries. The picture had also featured in related literature.

Depictions of farm workers and seasonal labourers painted in either Impressionistic or Realist styles have made significant sums before, including a similar-sized view of a farmhand cutting grasses with a scythe which made £10,200 at David Duggleby of Scarborough in 2019 - seemingly the previous highest auction price for Becker (see ATG No 2411).

European influences

While the artist’s following remains strong in his native East Anglia, one or two signs of greater interest have been noted recently with the European influences on his work (he trained extensively on the continent), painterly approach and choice of subject matter becoming more recognised.

The art critic and historian Paul George Konody wrote that Becker’s pictures showed the figure of man “in spiritual and in pictorial harmony with the surrounding nature” which was exemplified by the current picture.

Estimated at £2000-3000 at Lacy Scott & Knight on September 16, it drew a number of interested parties before it was knocked down at £11,000 to a dealer from south-east England, who was apparently buying for their personal collection which already includes several Beckers.