At the top of the tree stand his paintings of Sir Winston Churchill – one of which made £100,000 at Christie’s in 1997 and another fetched £90,000 at Sotheby’s in 2020. While the artist painted plenty of other notable figures, he painted the wartime prime minister on more occasions than any other artist.
Earlier this summer, a fascinating portrait by Salisbury depicting the cellist Beatrice Harrison (1892-1965) emerged at Minster Auctions (20% buyer’s premium) in Leominster, Herefordshire. While the sitter might not be a household name, she remains a well-known figure in musical circles.
Born in India, her family returned to England in her youth and, after coming to prominence as the first performer of Frederick Delius’ cello sonatas, she played on the first recording of Elgar’s cello concerto in 1920 with the composer conducting.
While Harrison came from a musical family, Salisbury’s artistic background was rather different. He was born in Harpenden, the son of a plumber and glazier, and trained as stained-glass painter in St Albans before winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy in 1892.
His varied output includes genre and allegorical pictures, historical works and large scenes of pageantry as well as portraits of notable sitters, many of which are in public collections (in total he painted five prime ministers and five US presidents).
The current portrait, a 4ft 9in x 3ft 4in (1.44 x 1.02m) signed oil on canvas, was dated 1944. It was painted at around the time when Harrison is said to have played a particularly memorable solo in a concert during conductor Sir Henry Wood’s final season in London.
It showed the sitter mid-performance wearing a concert dress but with a relaxed pose. With a tapestry to the background, it was unclear whether the setting was a formal concert or a private event but, in any case, its composition and quality of execution shone through and gave it plenty of appeal.
Consigned by a private vendor, it came in an ornate frame but the canvas had some creases and craquelure. Estimated at £2000-3000 at the auction on June 21, it sold at £6500 to a London buyer who was bidding online.
While the price was one of the best for a portrait by Salisbury sold outside London (the highest is £12,000 for a striking portrait of the artist’s daughter Sylvia sold at Woolley & Wallis), it still looks good value given the calibre of both artist and sitter.