The highest price at auction in four years for the artist Mary Potter (1900-81) came at a west London saleroom on July 4.
Offered at Chiswick Auctions’ (25% buyer’s premium) latest sale of Modern British and Irish art was a 14 x 23¾in (36 x 60cm) oil on board showing a couple sitting in a shelter with the sea and shipping in the background.
Potter had strong connections with the west London area. She moved to Chiswick Mall after her marriage in 1927 and painted a series of views from her window across the river Thames in the late 1920s and 1930s. These remain her best-known works of the period.
One of them, The Window, Chiswick from 1929, is now in Tate Britain.
In later life, she moved to Aldeburgh in Suffolk where she lived for 30 years with the coastline providing much of her favoured subject matter.
The work at the London auction seemed to mix different elements of the artist’s oeuvre, including the way it appeared to be painted from a window looking out across water.
As well as demonstrating her trademark quasi-naïve rendering of coastal scenes, it was also typical in terms of her use of heavy paint with soft tones.
The picture was formerly owned by a private collector who was in the diamond mining industry and who bought from Cork Street galleries in the late 1970s and 80s. Having acquired this picture at The New Art Centre, London, in 1981, the same year that the artist died, it came to auction here via family descent.
Estimated at £3000-5000, the combination of appealing commercial factors meant it drew considerable interest and it eventually sold at £19,500.
The price stands in the top 10 auction sums for Potter according to Artprice.com, and was the highest since Sotheby’s sold Brighton Belles in an auction of works from dealer The Fine Art Society in 2019.
Bradley on song
Also generating demand in Chiswick was a typical scene of childhood in Lancashire by Helen Bradley (1900-79).
On Saturday Evenings Mother Sang, a 20in x 2ft (51 x 61cm) oil on canvas board depicting an Edwardian sing-song, was inscribed and dated 1966. The vendor had been bought the picture at the Mercury Gallery in London the year after it was painted.
Buyers in this market look for pictures with the strongest narrative qualities evoking a sense of nostalgia and warmth. Those reproduced as prints hold particular cachet.
This example was seemingly not one of the latter but had many of the former attributes. Although it was twice unsold at Bonhams (firstly in 2010 when it was estimated at £30,000-50,000, and again in 2014, when it was pitched at £25,000- 35,000), here it met with a much better reaction. Guided at £20,000- 30,000, it got away at £29,000.
The auction offered nine lots from the collection of the late filmmaker and producer Peter Adam (1929-2019). All of them sold for a premium-inclusive total of £88,440.
Adam was a close friend of Keith Vaughan and Prunella Clough and works by these two artists led the selection at £22,000 and £17,000 respectively, although both sums were below estimate.
A watercolour and pencil sketch by Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957) sold at £14,000 against a £15,000-18,000 pitch.
Portrait of a Lady with a French Poodle was given to Adam by Clough, who in turn had received it from her aunt, the Irish architect and designer Eileen Gray.
Gray, a friend of Lewis who met the artist while studying at Slade in 1901, could well be the lady depicted in the work (although this was not confirmed).
The fact that the picture was not a Vorticist work made it less appealing commercially but, stylistically, it was in keeping with Lewis’ output from the mid-1930s when based in Paris.