A Study by George Spencer Watson, £52,000 at Minster Auctions.

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All consigned from the artist’s family, they were offered at the March 6 auction in Leominster, with six of them selling for a combined £85,800.

Works by the artist have come to the market intermittently over recent decades with good examples making solid five-figure sums.

According to the saleroom’s picture specialist James Pearn, Spencer Watson deserves to be better known, having perhaps been somewhat overshadowed by the likes of Singer Sargent, Lavery and other leading society portraitists of the Edwardian period.

Nude study

Drawing the strongest competition in Herefordshire was one of Watson’s last works: a nude study which he exhibited at the Royal Academy the year before he died. Nudes are relatively rare in his oeuvre although they were highly regarded in their day (an obituary referred to them as ‘remarkable for [their] refinement of feeling’).

The 3ft 4in x 2ft 10in (1.02m x 86cm) oil on canvas here was well known – it featured as the cover illustration for the first issue of Modern Masterpieces published by George Newnes in 1935.

It was comparable to two slightly earlier nudes from the late 1920s, one titled A Sunlit Nude in the Russell Cotes Museum and Art Gallery in Bournemouth and another in the Harris Art Gallery in Preston. All of them depict the sitters in an equally revealing state of undress.

However, while nudes by Watson have appeared at auction from time to time – such as one titled The Fountain from 1900 that made $42,000 (£26,105) at Christie’s New York in 2014 – nothing quite like this had seemingly emerged for over 20 years. The closest work in terms of scale and subject was a nude titled Marishka that made £4900 at Christie’s King Street back in 2003.

Estimated at £10,000-15,000, this example did rather better. It attracted considerable attention from both private buyers and the trade ahead of the sale and, on the day, the hammer fell at £52,000 to an anonymous phone bidder.

In terms of auction records for Spencer Watson, the price stands behind only the £125,000 for the larger group painting Four Loves I found, a Woman, a Child, a Horse and a Hound that sold at Christie’s in 2009.

Pearn felt the “supremely commercial subject” together with the fact that it was “made more poignant by being one of the last paintings that the artist exhibited before his death” as being among the key reasons for the high price.

The lady in red


My Lady of the Rose, £20,000 at Minster Auctions.

Also making a notable sum at Minster Auctions was a portrait of the artist’s wife titled My Lady of the Rose.

The 3ft 8in x 2ft 10in (1.1m x 85cm) oil on canvas, which was signed with the artist’s initials, showed Hilda Spencer Watson wearing a red tunic dress, fur stole, gold braid belt and holding a fur muff. Painted to celebrate their marriage in 1909, it was again a Royal Academy exhibit from 1911.

Hilda was a classical violinist as well as a dancer and mime artist, and this intensely personal portrait was filled with symbolism in the background relating to mythology and the arts.

Interestingly, the picture remained with the sitter’s father (it even spent some time in Australia) before coming back to the vendor’s family collection after passing to the artist’s daughter, the sculptor Mary Spencer Watson (1913-2006).

Estimated at £10,000-15,000, it was pursued by a number of UK buyers before selling at £20,000.

Turner top seller

Overall, the Spencer Watson lots made a useful contribution to the £200,465 total from the 41 picture lots in the sale.

The auction was led by a JMW Turner (1775-1851) watercolour depicting a famous English country estate that made £96,000 (see report in News, ATG no 2634).