Sanctuary in the Sahara by Frederick Bridgman, £26,000 at Bellmans.

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The auction in Wisborough Green, West Sussex, on March 28 offered three collections sourced from relatives of established painters and each produced a notable reaction from different groups of bidders.

One came from a family member of the watercolourist Arthur Croft (1828-1902). Although lesser known today, the artist exhibited plenty of works at the Royal Academy between 1868-93 and is thought to have created the largest watercolour ever shown there (a work exhibited in 1883 that measured over 8ft/2.4m high).

With the market for Victorian landscapes and topographical views produced by artists such as Croft not as strong as 20 or 30 years ago, the top lot by some distance among the nine lots from the consignment was a work that he owned by one of his American contemporaries.

Finding sanctuary

Sanctuary in the Sahara, a signed work from 1879 by Frederick Arthur Bridgman (1847-1928), was first exhibited in London at the Royal Academy the year after it was painted. It was probably bought then, or soon afterwards, by Croft, remaining in his family over several subsequent generations.

It is thought that two artists had met in London – both were married to American expatriates living there – and Croft may have even visited Algeria with Bridgman as the American is known to have been accompanied by four other artists on a subsequent visit to the country (although they remained unnamed in his writings). The fact that the few known Algerian scenes by Croft date from 1880-81 would tie in with this.

The 22in x 2ft 10in (56 x 87cm) oil on canvas in West Sussex was painted on Bridgman’s second trip to north Africa where he concentrated mostly on scenes from the smaller towns and villages.

After visiting Biskra, he made a three-day excursion towards the Sahara desert, visiting several south-eastern villages including the oasis village of Lichana. Bridgman wrote in his account Winters in Algeria published in 1890 that it “presented a different aspect from anything we have seen”.

As the current painting shows, he was greatly taken with the “sad beauty” of the local mosque, one of the oldest in Algeria, with its whitewashed clay arches and (probably Roman) limestone pillars. He wrote of the “impalpable dust”, “vivid” scroll-work and “fascinating” windows and devoted a half-page illustration to the Mosque of Lichana in his book. The drawing had fewer figures than the painting but it may have served as a study for the larger and worked-up work at Bellmans.

In terms of its condition, the painting was in an original state but suffered from a one-inch tear to the central pillar as well as some scattered staining and areas of paint separation.

The auction house gave it a £10,000-15,000 estimate – a restrained level given that works by the artist can fetch six-figure sums at auction. Generating strong interest, it was knocked down at £26,000 to a European private buyer.

While works by Bridgman are relatively common on the market (he painted prolifically and had a long career), they rarely appear at UK auctions outside London and this was seemingly one of the highest prices among those that have.

In terms of the eight works by Croft himself at the West Sussex sale, five were unsold but three got away for a combined £1290.

Landmark spotted


Watercolour of a coastal fort by Arthur Croft, £1000 at Bellmans.

The bulk of this total came from a view of a coastal fort which was dated 1889 and attracted much greater attention than the other works which were rather more generic landscapes.

This picture, however, featured an architectural landmark that raised its commercial prospects, especially since a number of bidders may well have identified the location depicted (the artist travelled widely and recorded various locations in Europe, the Middle East and North America).

Measuring 13¾ x 23½in (35 x 60cm), it was estimated at £150-250 and sold at £1000, again to a European private buyer. It appears to be the highest price for the artist at auction for over four years.

Dicksee double

The Bellmans sale also featured 32 works by Herbert and Frank Dicksee – two cousins from an artistic family. The former was primarily an animal painter while the latter favoured literary and historical subjects (and also served as president of the Royal Academy from 1924-28).

The works came from the collection of the late Pamela Service, Herbert’s great-granddaughter. A mixture of drawings, paintings and prints, they all sold on the day and generated a hammer total of just under £15,000.


Italian coast from La Mortola by Frank Dicksee, £2000 at Bellmans.

The top lot of the group was a signed and dated painting of the Italian coast by Frank Dicksee (1853-1928). It shows the view from La Mortola, a villa in north-west Italy owned by his friend, the painter Herbert Arnould Olivier, and his wife Margaret.

The 14½ x 21¼in (37 x 54cm) signed oil on panel dated from 1925 and was exhibited at the Royal Academy in the year it was painted (during his spell as president). Although the artist is more recognised for his figurative works and coastal views appear to be rare in his oeuvre, this example still looked good value with the estimate set at £500-800. After decent competition, it was knocked down at £2000 to a European private buyer.


William, a bull terrier by Herbert Dicksee, £1700 at Bellmans.

Among the works by Herbert Dicksee (1862-1942) bringing notable interest was a work on paper depicting a bull terrier that overshot a £300-500 pitch and was knocked down at £1700. It sold to a UK private buyer.

The artist often used family pets as his models and this 13¼x 9¾in (34 x 25cm) pencil, coloured chalks and gouache study depicted William, a dog which belonged to his great granddaughter Pamela, in whose collection it remained until the current sale.

A typically well-executed and characterful study, the £1700 price was the fourth highest at auction for a work on paper by Herbert Dicksee according to

Wardle himself


Self-portrait by Arthur Wardle, £2400 at Bellmans.

Works from the studio of another specialist animal painter, Arthur Wardle (1864-1949), which were also consigned by a family descendant, yielded a further 43 lots to the Bellmans’ sale. All bar five of the paintings, pastels, watercolours, sketches and sculptures sold, for a hammer total of just over £26,000.

The leading lot of the group, however, was a picture of a non-animal subject: a self-portrait which drew good demand against a £1000-1500 estimate despite a few condition issues.

The 2ft 6in x 2ft 1in (76 x 63cm) oil on canvas had some intriguing compositional features, with the artist showing his reflection in a Florentine mirror as he works on a portrait of his wife which is visible as ‘a frame within a frame’ in the background.

Offered unframed, the painting had craquelure throughout as well as some paint loss and stretcher marks visible. As well as a few other defects, it had some scattered retouching around the face visible under UV light. While this probably limited its value somewhat, it still went over predictions and sold at £2400 to a UK private buyer.

The sum appears relatively high for one of Wardle’s human subjects and was comparable to another self-portrait showing himself in evening dress that fetched $4800 (£2920) at Bonhams New York in 2014.