Is the market for the Scottish Colourists getting stronger? Despite some signs of robust demand of late, particularly at the top end of the market, overall the picture remains slightly mixed.
With supply remaining relatively plentiful, buyers tend to be selective as they focus on the most arresting tonal and poised compositions and recoil from anything lacking in market freshness or compromised condition.
This means offering the ‘right’ kind of works is even more key here than other areas. It has led to high levels of competition between the salerooms when good material emerges and explains why estimates have, on occasion, been pushed a bit too far.
However, most recently, supporters of this sector could take encouragement from the solid performance of the 12 lots by the four Colourists (Francis Cadell, John Duncan Fergusson, George Leslie Hunter and Samuel Peploe) offered at Lyon & Turnbull’s (26/25% buyer’s premium) sale of Scottish paintings and sculpture on June 8.
Supplied by eight different vendors, all of the works sold for a hammer total of £637,100, exceeding their combined top estimate of £563,500.
This helped boost the sale’s overall total to £1.73m (including premium) - a figure up 60% on the equivalent sale in June 2022 and 25% higher than the firm’s last sale in this category in December last year.
In all, the current auction offered 180 lots of which 150 sold, a decent 83% selling rate.
In terms of the Colourist lots, while certain works sparked good levels of competition, a few others fell a bit flat selling either on or below low estimate. L&T said that all 12 lots sold to private collectors, both in the UK and beyond.
There was no doubting the sale’s star picture – a fine still-life by Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell (1883-1937) which had been unseen in public for 80 years.
Described by L&T as a ‘blue-chip’ Colourist painting, the 20in x 2ft (51 x 61cm) signed oil on canvas depicted a blue-glazed jug with four tulips, a tea bowl, a blue and white vase and four citrus fruits set against a lilac wall.
The work dated from the period after Cadell moved to 6 Ainslie Place in Edinburgh in 1920, a factor that gave it considerable commercial appeal as such works helped established his reputation as one of Scotland’s most important artists.
It is thought his new surroundings and close collaboration with fellow Colourist Peploe, who lived nearby, led to a marked change in technique. He adopted a flatter rendering of form and use of saturated colour, as demonstrated by this example.
L&T’s senior specialist Alice Strang described Still Life with Tulips as “overflowing with the confidence and sophistication that Cadell brought to his paintings after demobilisation and a move to Edinburgh’s New Town”.
Crucially the lot also came fresh to the market having been acquired in 1943 from Edinburgh auction house Dowell’s, then by descent to the late Mrs Anne Walker from whose estate it was consigned to L&T.
With all this in its favour, the £100,000-150,000 estimate did not seem excessive to a number of interested parties. It sold at £320,000, a sum that stands in the top 10 auction prices for Cadell stilllifes but a bit behind the £360,000 for the larger Still Life of Roses that sold in the same rooms in 2016.
Also posting a six-figure price, albeit a low-estimate sum, was Samuel John Peploe’s (1871-1935) Still Life with Roses.
A familiar subject and composition, it was one of a series of freer and more expressively painted pictures of roses (which he would buy from the flower stalls of Princes Street in Edinburgh) that he produced from the mid to late 1920s.
The 18 x 16in (46 x 41cm) signed oil on canvas had provenance to London dealer MacConnal-Mason and here was estimated at £100,000-150,000. Selling at £100,000, the result was not in the top rank of Peploe prices but still looked a decent sum given its smaller size.
Elsewhere, among the significant results by artists connected to the four Colourists was a doubling of the auction record for Robert Brough (1872-1905). The artist shared lodgings with Peploe while training at the Académie Julian in Paris in the late 1890s.
The picture here depicted the model Barbara Staples wearing a spectacular hat and veil. She holds aloft a jar of violets, with their purple hues reflected at her throat and cuffs.
It dated from 1897, shortly after Brough returned to his native Aberdeen from France when he was establishing himself as an accomplished society portraitist (John Singer Sargent later became his mentor).
Works by the artist whose career was cruelly cut short after he sustained fatal injuries in a train crash are relatively scarce on the market - only 56 auction results are recorded on Artprice.
With its characteristically flamboyant brushwork, the 2ft 3in x 3ft 5in (69cm x 1.04m) oil on canvas here was described in the catalogue as ‘one of the artist’s masterpieces’.
A companion painting of the same date titled Fantaisie en Folie, another portrait in landscape format with the sitter in profile against a plain background, is now in the collection of the Tate gallery.
The painting was acquired by British surgeon Alexander Ogsten and hung in his home at Ardoe House, Aberdeen, for many years. Although he steadfastly refused to sell it in his lifetime, in 1960 it was bought by Staples’ husband.
It was later purchased by L&T’s vendor following its inclusion in the 1995 Brough exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery.
With this being the first time the picture had appeared at auction and being something of an unknown quantity commercially, the saleroom plumped for a £100,000-150,000 estimate. This proved a bit punchy as it sold at £95,000.
The previous record for Brough had stood for 30 years: the £44,000 for Breton Girl at a Sotheby’s Gleneagles sale back in 1997.
Wide demand for Eardley
The L&T sale also featured 13 works by Joan Eardley (1921-1963) which together raised nearly £300,000 in total (including premium).
While the individual prices were somewhat removed from the £160,000 record for The Yellow Jumper that L&T set in December, the fact that these works sold to 10 different buyers underlined the depth of interest in the artist.
The top-seller was a snowy landscape showing footprints leading to a cottage. The setting was the Aberdeenshire fishing village of Catterline where Eardley made frequent trips from 1954.
She favoured painting in bad weather and this example from 1963 dated from shortly before her untimely death from cancer at the age of 42 (her ashes were scattered on Catterline beach).
Evocatively, it was painted at daybreak after a fresh fall of snow with the footprints being those of the artist herself.
The 14 x 21in (36 x 53cm) signed oil on canvas had been bought by the vendor’s family from the McEwan Gallery in Ballater in 1980 and here it was pitched at £15,000-20,000.
Drawing good bidding, it was knocked down at £44,000, among the highest sums at auction for the artist’s Catterline subjects and another sum which would have given some further encouragement to this sector of the market.