At the textile merchant’s by Jan-Baptist Huysmans, £11,000 at Cheffins.

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Born in Antwerp, Huysmans studied at the city’s Fine Art Academy from 1843-49 but it was his extensive journey which began in 1856 and took in Greece, Turkey, Palestine, Syria, Egypt and Algeria that brought him wide attention.

As well as a large body of Orientalist scenes, he published two illustrated books: A Journey to Italy and the East in 1856-57, and A Journey toward Spain and Algeria in 1862.

In terms of his paintings, he was influenced by artists such as Jean-Léon Gérôme and John Frederick Lewis as he recorded the local customs and costume of the areas he visited, presenting them in a manner that appealed to the imagination of a Western audience.

Merchant exchange

A fairly typical example appeared at Cheffins (25% buyer’s premium) in Cambridge on March 20. Titled At the textile merchant’s, the 17 x 23¾in (43 x 61cm) oil on canvas came from a local deceased estate.

Signed to the lower right, it was in decent condition despite some minor undulations at the upper edge and some localised areas of retouching.

Works by Huysmans are not uncommon at auction but they rarely crop up at regional salerooms in the UK. While the market has become somewhat selective over the last 20 or so years, works with multiple figures, vivid colours and carefully observed architectural elements, especially those of known locations, are favoured and can make £30,000 upwards.

The picture in Cambridge certainly had some, although not all, of the key attractions. The Cheffins catalogue mentioned the “strong sense of immediacy and social realism” and how the composition benefited from the artist’s direct observation.

However, it was unclear where the setting was actually based and the figures were perhaps harder to make out compared to a picture of a shooting party for example that sold for £60,000 at Sotheby’s in 2023.

Estimated at £7000-10,000, it sold at £11,000 - not the highest sum for the artist but one that was appears to be the most for a work by Huysmans at a UK auction outside London.

* The artist should not be confused with Jan Baptist Huysmans (1654-1716), an earlier landscape painter who was also from Antwerp.