Étretat, 1939 by Tristram Hillier, €75,000 (£87,000) at Adam’s.

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Étretat, with its “luminous Norman sky” in Hillier’s words, had long been an artistic haven before Hillier went there, attracting the likes of Delacroix, Courbet and Monet.

The artist settled in the nearby village of Criquetot-l’Esneval in 1937 with his second wife Leda following his departure from Unit One, Paul Nash’s short-lived avantgarde group of the mid 1930s.

Within three years, war had broken out and the pair fled to England, forcing Hillier to leave over 50 of his paintings behind. The works would probably have been lost had it not been for his maid who hid them in a neighbour’s house shortly before the artist’s home was ransacked by German forces.

The oil depicted here, dated 1939, was among those rescued by the maid and reunited with the artist in 1946. Fresh to market, it appeared in The Library Sale at Adam’s (25% buyer’s premium) of Dublin on May 1.

The auction house described the 2ft x 2ft 8in (60 x 80cm) oil on canvas as showing “an idyll on the cusp of collapse, locals and tourists alike enjoying the last of the peacetime”. The Hotel Blanquet, where Monet stayed in 1883, features prominently among the town’s buildings.

Larger than most Hilliers from this period and less menacing in tone, it was regarded by the auction house as a fine and rare example in his oeuvre.

Alongside its remarkable survival story, the picture was also included in Hillier’s successful 1946 exhibition with London dealer Arthur Tooth & Sons, which sold out within a few days. Later, it was included in the 1983 retrospective on the painter at Bradford Art Galleries and Museums.

Purchased at some point from Arthur Tooth & Sons by the vendor’s family, it was knocked down in Dublin for €75,000 (£87,000) against a €40,000-60,000 estimate.

Great rediscovery

“This was a great rediscovery in Ireland, particularly with the Arthur Tooth provenance, and is probably one of the best works by Hillier to appear on the market in the last few years,” said Nathaniel Nicholson, associate director at Adam’s, adding that he thought it might be the first time a Hillier has sold at auction in Ireland.

“We had great interest overall with strong competitive bidding in the room. I can’t go into further detail other than bidding was both local and international.”

The price is the second highest at auction for any work by Hillier after The Lighthouse, also from 1939, which sold at Bonhams for £85,000 in 2016.