Preparatory head study for St Christina Giving her Father’s Jewels to the Poor by Evelyn de Morgan, £6000 at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood.

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The auctions across the country at the start of 2024 seemed to show both sides of the market in equal measure.

While the bulk of lots in this category sold toward the lower end of expectations, a few stand-out works demonstrated the significant appeal for rare works by notable names or examples which may have been a bit more speculative but merited further research.

De Morgan study

Among the anticipated highlights of the season was an Evelyn de Morgan (1855-1919) head study that emerged at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood (25% buyer’s premium) in Exeter on January 16-17.

The sanguine drawing that measured 12½ x 9¼in (32 x 24cm) was a preparatory study for one of the artist’s monumental works, St Christina Giving her Father’s Jewels to the Poor, a large-scale painting which sadly was lost in 1991 during the fire at the Bourlet’s art storage warehouse in London where some of the De Morgan Foundation’s art collection was held.

Dated to c.1904, the current sketch was a study for St Christina herself. It was one of a number of preparatory sketches known for the larger painting - an oil and a pastel head seemingly depicting the same model in an identical pose can be found in the De Morgan Foundation’s collection, for example.

The drawing at BHL had good provenance and market freshness. It came from a vendor whose mother was adopted by a close family member of the artist. It was the last remaining work by de Morgan in his family, the others disposed of some years ago.

The condition was described as generally good although it suffered from a small amount of foxing to the upper right and a small puncture to the upper left.

Estimated at £2000-3000, bidding had reached £2800 before the sale but, come the day, three bidders competed - one on the phone, another in the room and the eventual winner who was bidding online and secured the lot at £6000.

While de Morgan works on paper have fetched substantially more, including at auctions outside London (most notably the £39,000 for a gold pastel work sold at Gloucestershire saleroom Dominic Winter back in November 2018), this was ultimately a smaller work without the dramatic colouring and so was never likely to reach such heights. Nevertheless, the sum in Exeter was in keeping with previous results for more comparable pastel and chalk heads by the artist that appear for sale from time to time. The demand that emerged at BHL also showed how such quality works offered fresh to the market remain sought after, especially with a lid kept on the estimate.

Go to Towne


Evening Study, a Francis Towne watercolour that sold for £4400 at South Dorsetshire Auctions.

It was a similar case with a rediscovered Francis Towne (1739- 1816) sketch that emerged at South Dorsetshire Auctions (15% buyer’s premium) on January 28.

The 12½ x 7¾in (32 x 22cm) pen, ink and watercolour attracted attention from trade and private bidders, not least thanks to its distinctive features pointing to the English landscape painter and the presence of a label on the back for London dealer Thomas Agnew & Sons.

It came from a vendor in Hampshire whose mother had recently died. He remembered being told that his great-grandfather bought the picture in the 1930s.

The work was unsigned but an additional label which was slightly damaged identified the artist and subject as Francis Towne..Evening study. On receiving the consignment, the Dorset auction house took it to a local gallery to remove it from the frame and have a closer look.

Although the watercolour was stuck to a baseboard (no attempt was made to remove it), the saleroom was able to identify the bleed-through from two ink inscriptions on the back of the paper: one being Towne’s signature along with the date 22nd May 1781 and number 30, and the other being an annotation made by Paul Oppé - the complier of the ‘Barton Place catalogue’ (an early 20th century catalogue of Towne’s drawings and works on paper bequeathed to the Merivale family).

These inscriptions enabled the Wareham auction house to track down the corresponding entry on the digital catalogue raisonné for Towne published by Paul Mellon Centre (see The online listing gives the title as Tivoli, an Evening Study and the provenance section states that it was sold by Agnews for £9.9s in 1936 but that its whereabouts thereafter were ‘untraced’.

In terms of its condition, there was some slight foxing across the top of the picture but the central parts of the image were clean with little fading. The estimate was set £800-1200, although auctioneer Mark Croucher who was on the rostrum expected it to raise over £2000 at least. With bidding in the room taking the price upwards, it came down to a battle between two online parties before it was knocked down to one of them, a buyer from the English east coast, at £4400.

Croucher said: “Towne has grown in popularity over recent years, and this particular work was taken from one of his sketchbooks. While not as spectacular as some, the simplicity of his work has been an inspiration for some of the top artists of the 20th century.”

Although the price was in line with previous results for sketches in this size, the interest once again showed how decent demand continues to emerge for good quality watercolours by notable names wherever they appear.

Linnell family value


John Linnell’s watercolour and pen portrait of his son James, £5500 at Dawsons.

Good competition also emerged in Maidenhead, Berkshire, when a particularly personal work by English artist John Linnell (1792- 1882) emerged at Dawsons (25% buyer’s premium) on January 25 and sold for over 10 times the top estimate.

The watercolour and pen bust-length portrait was painted c.1825 and depicts his second son James Thomas Linnell (1820-1905) as a long-haired, red-headed boy. It was inscribed on the back: James Thos. Linnell’s Given to him by his father John Linnell 1879.

During the early part of his life, Linnell was associated with William Blake, to whom he introduced Samuel Palmer, George Richmond and other members of the group of artists known as the Ancients. His eldest daughter Hannah married Palmer.

The 10 x 8in (25 x 20cm) portrait was estimated at £300-500 and attracted plenty of interest before selling to an online bidder at £5500. Works by Linnell appear frequently and tend to fetch a wide range of prices but the sum here was above average for a small work on paper such as this.

James Thomas Linnell would himself become a successful landscape artist in his own right, exhibiting at the Royal Academy from 1850-88.

Hint of Guercino


A red chalk drawing catalogued as ‘attributed to… or the circle of’ il Guercino, £19,000 at Wimbledon Auctions.

One of the strongest bidding battles for an Old Master drawing at the new year sales came at Wimbledon Auctions (24% buyer’s premium) on January 22.

On offer was a red chalk drawing of a male figure in profile which was catalogued as ‘attributed to.. or the circle of’ Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591-1666), the Italian Baroque artist better known as il Guercino.

Director of Wimbledon Auctions Felix Turner said: “I first saw this drawing when I went to visit a local lady and gentleman at their home, regarding a small consignment of silver. Although modestly framed, the drawing immediately caught my eye. I asked the vendor about its provenance, and he told me that he purchased it at an antiques shop in Kensington over 50 years ago and then hung it in the same spot on the wall ever since.

“When I took the drawing out of the frame there on the back was the pencil inscription of an attribution to ‘Guercino da Cento’. After asking a few experts their opinions, the vendor and I agreed on the fair estimate of £3000-5000.”

The drawing was described as in overall good condition but UV light revealed an unfortunate watermark applied to the paper over the subject’s face.

The lot drew online bidding from both UK and overseas with a number of Italian collectors reportedly in contention. The hammer eventually fell at £19,000 to a European buyer.

While the work had a certain quality of execution and the subject, medium and fluid style had similarities to other known Guercino chalk drawings, further research will no doubt now be undertaken. It will be interesting to see whether a full attribution to Guercino to the master or his studio can be established.

Equine angle


The Roadmender, a watercolour by Edmund Blampied, £2600 at David Duggleby.

Among the more modern works in paper bringing interest in the same month was a typical watercolour by the Jersey-born artist Edmund Blampied (1886-1966).

A prolific printmaker and illustrator of stamps and banknotes that were used in the Channel island, Blampied also specialised in scenes with horses, such as the example that appeared at David Duggleby (22% buyer’s premium) in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, on January 18.

Indeed, it was his sketches of an agricultural show that first brought him attention in May 1902 when they were shown to Marie Josephine Klintz, an art school teacher who gave the young artist his first formal lessons and introduced him to watercolours. The 8¼ x 10½in (21 x 27cm) watercolour here was signed and titled The Roadmender. It was pitched at just £70-100 but sold at £2600 to an online buyer.

The price looked pretty decent for a Blampied picture of this size and subject on the current market, even if it would have probably fetched a fair bit more 20 or 30 years ago.