On March 26, I wrote about the sale of Stanley J. Seeger’s final collection, which had taken place at Sotheby’s at the beginning of that month. May 22 saw a pendant to that occasion in a ‘white glove auction’-all lots sold- of Christopher Cone’s British watercolour or oil-sketch landscapes and figure studies under the title of ‘A Green and Pleasant Land’, again, at Sotheby’s, naturally enough, as Mr Cone was a cataloguer at the old Belgravia rooms in the 1970s before becoming Seeger’s partner of 32 years.
This collection was entirely his concern, as the subject did not appeal to Seeger and, from about 1990, he bought from the best London specialist dealers, with an eye not only to quality, but also to condition. Most of the 63 lots went over estimate, some many times so. Some were slight, but perfect in their way, such as the first lot, a five-by-five-and-three-quarter-inch watercolour study of A Rainbow’s End by James Ward, bought from the late Andrew Wyld’s 2009 exhibition, which soared beyond the £1,200 estimate to take £8,750.
Similarly, the catalogue cover illustration, George John Pinwell’s six-and-a-half-inch by seven-inch The Fine Lady (above) in watercolour, estimated to £8,000, sold for £15,000. Here, the cataloguer made a tiny slip in referring to ‘her children’, when these were peasant girls wondering at the lady’s strange behaviour, deep in her book, unconscious of the world, beneath a parasol. It is a social comment typical of such Pre-Raphaelite followers as Boyce, North, Walker and Pinwell, several of whom featured prominently here.
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The highest price in the sale was £74,500 for another rainbow, in one of Atkinson Grimshaw’s oddly photographic pure landscapes, a 30in by 25in oil painting of a Lakeland valley (estimate to £50,000). One of my favourites was a brooding and early 10 inch by 17 inch watercolour by David Cox of Breidden Hill in the Welsh Borders. It probably dated from 1811; estimated to £6,000, this sold for £15,000.
On the same day, in Edinburgh, Lyon & Turnbull took £391,250 for a 20in by 16in Still Life with Roses and Oranges by the colourist Samuel John Peploe and £49,250 for a 153⁄4in-high bronze bust by John Duncan Fergusson, Eastre, Hymn to the Sun. Eastre, or Eostre, is supposed to have been a Saxon goddess of spring, on the evidence of Bede. From her name, we are said to have derived the word Easter. I have long suspected that Easter is more likely a remnant of Church Greek, like Kyrie eleison. The climax of the Orthodox Easter service is the shout of ‘Christos anesti’ (Christ is risen).
On May 19, a book and manuscript auction at Bloomsbury featured a complete set of first editions of the Brontë sisters’ novels, sent for sale from America. Estimated to £80,000, the set reached £111,600. There was also a small collection of correspondence from poets and artists to Oliver Simon (1895-1956), a printer with the Curwen Press. Five letters from Edward Ardizzone were boosted by a watercolour and memories of his time as a war artist in Italy to take £3,720.
In the same week, Summers Place Auctions, West Sussex, held a sale of garden statuary and natural history, in which Coalbrookdale cast-iron seating did particularly well, headed by a pair of rare horse-chestnut-pattern seats at a twice-estimate £27,500. Among several human skulls and mummified heads was the part-anatomised skull of an early-19th-century felon, John Parker, executed for robbing a church and school. It is not recorded how much he stole, but he took £2,500 this time round.
Upcoming arts and antiques shows
A few weeks ago, I mentioned the ‘Rodin in Private Hands’ show at Bowman Sculpture in Duke Street, St James’s, SW1, which continues to July 31 and is well worth a visit. The Van Gogh Museum has not only visited, but bought a superb cast of She who was once the Helmet-Maker’s Beautiful Wife, patinated by Rodin’s favourite specialist assistant Jean Limet. It shows that age is no bar to beauty.
Lennox Cato of Edenbridge (www.lennoxcato.com) is taking a break from summer fairs to stage his own show of furniture and works of art to June 21. It is wide-ranging, from a Kangxi huanghuali side or calligraphy table to a marble head by Canova by way of a satinwood commode in the ‘style anglaise’ attributed to Claude-Charles Saunier (1735-1807) and a most interesting example of Crimean prisoner-of-war beadwork.
In Bond Street, Richard Green (www.richardgreen.com) offers three shows, with Modern Masters at No 33 to July 11, and Seago and Russell Flint across the road at No 147, both to June 25. The Modern Masters run from Matthew Smith before the First World War to Frank Auerbach in 1997 and includes a powerful Patrick Heron colour exercise, Strata of Green & Scarlet Vermillion.
Not exactly a show, but surely the harbinger of exhibitions to come, is the launch of a new collaborative venture in which the lower floor of the Jermyn Street works of art and furniture gallery Harris Lindsay (www.harrislindsay.com) will play host to two other top dealers, Michael Lipitch with 18th-century furniture and Michael Cohen of Cohen & Cohen with Oriental art and Chinese export wares. The friendly arrangement may become permanent.
Two shows of contemporary artists to note are of 45 colourful works by Dan Llywelyn Hall at Lorfords, Tetbury, Gloucestershire (www.lorfordsantiques.com), to July 5, and recent work by Frances Hatch at the newly founded Kevis House Gallery, Petworth, West Sussex (July 12-August 30). Dan Llywelyn Hall was the Singer Friedlander Sunday Times Young Artist of the Year in 2003.
He has been described as ‘expressionistic’ and caused some controversy with a painting of The Queen commissioned for Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium in 2013. As he says: ‘To make something that is heartfelt and meaningful, you’ve got to be prepared to put yourself on the line.’
Frances Hatch forages earth, clay, chalk, sand, litter and other organic matter, and uses them to create landscapes as it were from themselves. The results may be semi-abstract, but powerfully tactile (www.kevishouse.com).
** This article was printed in Country Life, June 11 2014