A month after posting one of the strongest results for any Scottish art auction in the UK recently, Lyon & Turnbull (25/25/20% buyer’s premium) was back offering more art north of the border.
The January 11 sale of Contemporary & Post War art in Edinburgh ran to nearly 300 lots and posted competitive prices for several Scottish-born artists, including the second-highest price at auction for a work by John Boyd (1940-2001).
The painter, remembered by fellow artist Michael Scott as “the quiet master of contemporary Scottish painting”, has a reputation as an underrated artist on the secondary market.
His distinctive fishermen series – evocative compositions depicting men cradling model-sized boats inspired by early Italian paintings of prelates holding model churches – are the most sought-after pictures in his oeuvre.
Deemed an excellent example, the large 4ft 11in (1.5m) square work Well Met showing three fishermen standing quietly against a brown background came to auction with provenance from the artist’s estate. On the day, a private buyer parted with £8500 to secure it, nearly triple the top guide.
Also getting close to an auction record was Me in Stripey Top (2018), a 17 x 12in (42 x 31cm) pencil and watercolour by John Byrne (b.1940) exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy in 2018.
An archetypal example of Byrne’s cartoon-like self-portraits, with an exaggerated long head, wide shoulders, and styled moustache, it was knocked down to a private buyer for £14,000, around three times its top estimate.
It is close to the record £17,000 paid at Great Western Auctions in 2012 for Byrne’s oil on canvas of The Beatles. With another self-portrait fetching a multi-estimate £15,000 the same week in an online sale at Sotheby’s, a new Byrne auction high may not be far off.
The top lot, selling to a private buyer at £16,000, was Pan’s Castle No. 2, Opus 0.567g (1965-67), a 1960s diptych by post-war British artist Alan Davie (1920-2014).
Its strong colour and graphic symbols compare favourably to Bird Through the Wall, No. 8 (1971), another large-scale diptych L&T sold for £13,000 in 2020.
Abstract Expressionism, African sculpture and Zen Buddhism were all major influences in Davie’s
work. At his peak in the 1950s he was hailed alongside Francis Bacon as the most influential artist of his time before falling into relative obscurity as critical interest in his work waned a few decades later.
Canvases from this period tend to fetch the most on the secondary market with Goddess of the Green (1954), a work famously admired by Jackson Pollock, selling for £195,000 at Sotheby’s Stanley Seeger auction in 2007.
These highlights followed the robust sale of higher valued Scottish painting and sculpture at the Edinburgh saleroom. The £1.32m sale total and 87% selling rate (from 186 lots) on December 8 bettered the October and November sales held at rivals Bonhams Edinburgh and Sotheby’s London.
One of Joan Eardley’s (1921-63) distinctive portrayals of Glasgow’s poverty-stricken children was the headliner, breaking a 14-year auction record for the artist.
This first-rate example, a 22½in (57cm) square oil and collage called The Yellow Jumper (1963), was painted in the final year of the artist’s life. The children she depicted were two members of the Samson family who would often sit for her in return for drawing paper and a few pence to spend at the sweet shop. To the verso, Eardley had painted Glasgow tenements.
The picture’s last appearance at auction in 2011 drew a winning bid of £105,000, one of only three canvases by the artist at the time to tip into six figures at auction. L&T’s estimate of £100,000-150,000 reflected this previous strong performance and Eardley’s overall reputation as a highly bankable name on the market.
In the event it sold to a private buyer for £160,000, eclipsing the previous record of £140,000 paid at Sotheby’s in 2008 for Beggars in Venice (a rare subject inspired by Eardley’s trip to Italy on a travelling scholarship).
Peploe and Fergusson
The other six-figure sum was claimed by a mature still-life by Colourist Samuel Peploe (1871-1935), dating to c.1925. Quite different from the bright and bold still-lifes the artist is best known for, the 18 x 16in (45.5cm x 40.5cm) oil on canvas Still Life with Jug and Pears depicts a simple arrangement of a white jug with apples and pears executed in a toned-down palette.
The £80,000-120,000 estimate reflected its more niche appeal and it sold to a private buyer for £110,000.
More bids emerged for a small, thickly textured portrait of a woman’s head in profile painted by fellow Colourist John Duncan Fergusson (1874-1961) in the First World War. It sold for a multi-estimate £56,000, around a £50,000 (inflation adjusted) return on its previous auction price of £3400 at Sotheby’s in 1998.
The 13 x 10in (33 x 25.5cm) mixed media work Stability comes from a series of female heads the artist painted in 1916 and was one of over 30 pictures shown in his solo exhibition at The Connell Gallery in London two years later. It was priced at £50.
The best works from the series are cherished among collectors with arguably the finest of them, Poise (which Fergusson had priced the highest of all his works in the 1916 show), taken to £530,000 at Christie’s in 2014, a record price for the Colourist at auction.
Along with the Eardley, buyers also snapped up works by other Scottish women, including a rare portrait by Glasgow Girl Bessie MacNicol (1869-1904).
Elizabeth (1897) drew clear influences from Whistler and the Impressionists she had seen during her sojourn in Paris and was knocked down at £48,000, over twice its low estimate and a joint high for the artist at auction alongside Vanity (1902), a much larger canvas of a female nude sold at Sotheby’s in 1996.
Strong interest also emerged for Crossing the Bridge in a Storm, a 19th century stormy highland scene by Anne Gibson Nasmyth (1798-1874), daughter of the Romantic landscapist Alexander Nasmyth. Works by Anne are rare, with this example selling for £12,000 to a buyer on thesaleroom.com, over twice its estimate.