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Portrait of Ethel Bartlett by Dame Laura Knight, £5400 at Killens.

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A number of British works on paper drew attention at the early summer sales held around the country.

One was a portrait sketch by Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) that came up at Killens(20% buyer’s premium) sale at Mendip Auction Rooms in Somerset staged on May 11.

It depicted Ethel Bartlett (1877-1970), a classical pianist who, along with her husband Rae Robertson, formed a well-known duo credited with popularising two-piano music in the 1930s-40s.

She was a frequent model for both Knight and her husband Harold, and a striking oil on canvas by Dame Laura showing Bartlett also in profile is now part of the Atkinson Art Galleries Collection.

The 17in x 12¾in (43 x 32.5cm) charcoal and watercolour came to auction from the sitter’s niece. Signed and dated 1924 to lower left, it was tempting to think that it was a preparatory work for the Atkinson oil which was originally exhibited in 1926.

The sketch certainly had similar facial features and showed the sitter’s hair tied in a bun as in the larger painting, although the vendor did not seem to think it was.

While Knight’s drawings fetch a fairly wide range of prices at auction, in part as they are quite common on the market, this example had strong appeal not least due to its attractive subject, good condition and excellent provenance. Estimated at £3000- 4000, it attracted bidders in the room and on the phone, but was eventually knocked down at £5400 to a UK dealer who was bidding online.

Works on paper by the artist have been known to make well beyond this level but, considering a slightly smaller sketch of the same sitter made £650 at Toovey’s in 2013, this one seemed to do rather well.

Mystery sitter

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Chalk study by Charles West Cope, £1500 at Parker Fine Art Auctions.

Another work on paper portrait bringing lively demand appeared at Parker Fine Art Auctions (25% buyer’s premium) in Farnham, Surrey, on May 9.

The study by Charles West Cope (1811-90) of a man reading a book came from a regular client. Although it was signed with the artist’s initials and dated July 1874, the identity of the sitter remained a mystery.

Cope was a widely travelled artist who specialised in historical, literary and genre scenes but also produced portraits as well as etchings and illustrations. In 1843 he won a prize in a competition to decorate the Houses of Parliament and completed several commissions for the building.

His auction record stands at £26,000 for a large-scale painting of a scene from King Lear that sold at Sotheby’s in 2013, although the highest price for a work on paper is the £3200 for a chalk sketch of the artist’s son Harry sold at Christie’s 2012, according to Artprice.com.

The 12½ x 11in (32 x 28cm) sketch in Farnham was executed in coloured chalks and came for sale in decent condition. The tempting estimate of £100-150 brought interest from a number of parties and it was eventually knocked down at £1500 to an online buyer.

According to the auction house, part of the attraction for the purchaser was that it would look good in their library.

The White stuff

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Farmyard scene by Ethelbert White, £1600 at Parker Fine Art Auctions.

The Farnham sale also generated good bidding for a watercolour by Ethelbert White (1891-1972).

Consigned by a private collector, the farmyard scene was signed and measured 13½ x 17in (34 x 43cm) and was very much in keeping with his style which was influenced by his work as an illustrator, wood engraver and poster designer.

Again the pitch was highly attainable: it was estimated at £200- 300 and eventually sold at £1600 to a private buyer who already owns a few of his works and thought this would make an attractive addition to their collection.

A further tranche of works by ‘Bertie’ White appeared at Woolley & Wallis (26% buyer’s premium) in Salisbury on June 5. The 35 prints and works on paper, as well as one oil painting, from the collection of the late Howard Duckworth attracted keen interest with only two lots failing to sell.

Among the drawings bringing decent competition was a charcoal sketch of a Spanish landscape. Signed and measuring 10¼ x 13in (26 x 33cm), it was among the works that Duckworth had purchased from London dealer Abbott and Holder.

Knocked down at £500, it doubled its top estimate and fetched an above-average sum for a monochrome sketch of this size by White.

Leading the group overall was the sole oil painting on offer: a figurative work titled Betty at the table, Spain that Duckworth had bought from an auction in the south east back in 1991.

Here the 2ft 1in x 20¾in (63 x 53cm) signed oil on canvas was pitched at £300-500 but drew a strong contest and sold at £1900.

St Ives artist and sitter

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Portrait of Wilhelmina Barnes Graham by Mary Millar Watt, £2400 at Reeman Dansie.

Another portrait sketch that sparked a healthy competition against a lowly estimate came for a watercolour by Mary Millar Watt (1924-2023).

It emerged as part of a collection by the Plymouth-born artist and her mother Amy at Colchester saleroom Reeman Dansie (22.5% buyer’s premium).

Signed and dated ’42, it measured 13 x 9½in (33 x 24cm) and depicted the artist Wilhelmina Barnes Graham.

Watt studied at the St Ives School of Art under Leonard Fuller before going on to attend the Royal Academy Schools from 1947-52. She was known for her portraits, although her standing on the market is somewhat behind some of her contemporaries - the auction record before this sale was under £500.

With the sitter of the work being a leading member of the St Ives group of artists, the subject here clearly appealed to prospective bidders.

Offered at a timed online sale that closed on May 19, it eventually sold at £2400.