An untitled view of a farm boy on a horse by Stanhope Forbes, £27,000 at Lay’s sale of the Branfield collection.

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The sale of the collection of John Branfield was a remarkable event on many counts. Among them was the lively demand that emerged for a series of Newlyn School pictures.

One of the most significant selections of works by members of the artists’ colony to have emerged in recent years, the group offered at the dedicated auction at Lay’s (21% buyer’s premium), whose Penzance saleroom is less than two miles from the fishing village of Newlyn, provided the latest opportunity to gauge the strength of the market.

Branfield, an art historian and author, wrote several biographies of some of west Cornwall’s most celebrated artistic figures and, together with his late wife Kathleen (known as Pep), spent 50 years building a collection of both pictures and ceramics.

One of his books, A Breath of Fresh Air, is a novel about collecting Newlyn School pictures. At the auction, works from the group yielded a number of the sale’s highest prices.

‘Father’ of the colony

Two examples by the ‘father’ of the colony Stanhope Alexander Forbes (1857-1947) were among the top lots, although neither depicted a harbour, fishermen and boats which are the artist’s most commercial subjects (A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach, 1884-85, is arguably his most celebrated work).

Instead, these pictures reflected the range of other aspects on which Forbes focused as he aimed to show the ‘honest endeavour’ of Cornish life, especially scenes with farms, blacksmiths or figures engaged in other industries.

First to be offered at Lay’s was an untitled view of a farm boy on a horse. The 2ft 6in x 3ft (76 x 92cm) signed oil on canvas was seemingly a late work and was part of Forbes’ studio collection when he died.

The Branfields bought it in 1981 from Newlyn Orion Gallery for £1200. It had since featured in the Sons and Daughters of the Soil exhibition at Penlee House in Penzance in 2015.

These rural subjects featured regularly in the artist’s work, especially after 1906 when he moved up the hill from Newlyn and built a house and studio at Higher Faugan where he lived until his death (it is said country carts replaced fishing boats as his principal subject during this period).

While this example benefited from being a sunny scene with the rider ‘up’, it came with a few condition issues including a patch behind the horse and minor losses (consistent with a work that had been rolled).

As with many lots in the Branfield collection, the estimate was set at an attractive level, in this case £10,000- 15,000, and this prompted good interest on the day. It was eventually knocked down at £27,000 to a private buyer bidding online, a sum that was not far removed from the £28,000 bid for a similar painting from 1944 showing the same figure in the same pose but with two extra figures to the foreground that sold at Christie’s in 2018.


Man on Horseback by Stanhope Forbes, £27,000 at Lay’s.

Going to a different buyer, another equine subject by Forbes also made £27,000 at the Branfield auction. Simply titled Man on Horseback, the 2ft 6in x 2ft (76 x 51cm) oil on canvas had also been purchased from Newlyn Orion Gallery in 1981 for £800.

The model for the work was Willy Glasson, a favourite for Forbes who depicted him in a number of guises both on horseback and on boats at sea.

Here the estimate was £7000- 9000 and, although more loosely painted, it was in better condition being unlined and with little sign of overpainting, which helped it reach the same £27,000 price, selling to a local private buyer in the room.

The fact that both works achieved sums at least four times their 1981 values (accounting for inflation) represented a notable return over the intervening period. Indeed, they gave a strong indication of how Newlyn pictures can still perform well when fresh-to the-market and offered at attractive levels.

Bruford portrait

This was even more the case when it came to a small portrait of a child by Midge Bruford (1902-58) that drew fervent bidding against a £1500-2500 estimate. The Branfields paid only a few hundred pounds for it but here it took a record £25,000.

It was arguably the star of the sale, even though an Alfred Wallis boat scene led the day at £60,000 (both works were pictures in News, ATG No 2633).


The Lane to Paul by Harold Harvey, £18,000 at Lay’s.

A strong competition also came for a work by a better-known painter in the same artistic circle as Bruford, Harold Harvey (1874-1941). The Lane to Paul depicted a young woman walking with a cow.

The 12 x 16in (31 x 41cm) signed oil on canvas had a traditional Newlyn subject of working-class life. It dated from 1909, before the artist turned more to painting middleclass interior scenes with fashionably dressed figures.

The work had appeared at the Harold Harvey, Painter of Cornwall exhibition at Penlee House in 2001 and it emerged here in good condition, despite a small area of paint loss to the right of the signature.

The estimate of £2000-3000 always seemed on the low side but the final £18,000 looked like a strong price for a work of this size. It sold to a private buyer who was bidding online.

Contrasting fashions


The Sandpit – On Porthminster Beach by Charles Simpson, £17,000 at Lay’s.

The pick of nine works by Charles Walter Simpson (1885-1971), an artist about whom Branfield published a book titled Painter of Animals and Birds, Coastline & Moorland, was an attractive beach scene dating from 1916.

The Sandpit – On Porthminster Beach depicted Jennifer Rowe, a young girl shown in a green hat and cardigan, who had come with her mother to stay with Cornish relatives during the zeppelin raids on London.

She is shown with two local children. With the figures’ contrasting fashions (Jennifer’s machine-knitted hat and cardigan seeming to belong to a different age), the painting was thought to be comment on changing times.

Pitched at £5000-10,000, the 2ft 6in x 3ft 4in (75 x 91cm) signed oil on canvas drew strong interest before being knocked down at £17,000 to a private buyer. It was the fifthhighest price at auction for Simpson according to, but the highest recorded outside London.

Sharp spotted


The Warren, St Ives by Dorothea Sharp, £20,000 at Lay’s.

A good subject also lifted a Dorothea Sharp (1874-1955) painting at the sale.

Although beach scenes with children tend to be the most sought-after works in her oeuvre, a view of The Warren, a narrow street in St Ives overlooking both Westcotts Quay and St Ives harbour, proved to have significant appeal too.

Dating from c.1930, the 2ft x 20in (60 x 50cm) oil on canvas was bought originally from the artist’s studio in St Ives not long after it was painted. More recently it was shown at the Creating a Splash exhibition at Penlee House in Penzance (which travelled to other areas of England between 2002-04). At Lay’s, it was estimated at £2000-3000 and sold at £20,000 to a private buyer who was bidding online.

As well as a good price for such a work by Sharp, it was another example of the Branfield collection giving a boost to early 20th century Cornish art more generally.