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Sotheby's to Sell "The Old Dealer" by Charles Spencelayh-Artist's Masterpiece
Charles Spencelayh, "The Old Dealer" (The Old Curiosity Shop). Est. £250,000-350,000). Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Sotheby's sale of Victorian and Edwardian Art on Thursday, December 17, 2009 will bring together some 100 works by leading artists of the era and is expected to raise in excess of £4.2 million. Among the categories of works to be offered will be a strong contingent of classical, mythological, genre, landscape and fairy pictures.

The sale will include a quintessential work by Charles Spencelayh (1865-1958). Considered his masterpiece, The Old Dealer (The Old Curiosty Shop) was immensely popular at the time of its exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1925. The subject is a purveyor of antiques surrounded by a vast array of objects. Such was the appeal of the bric-a-brac on display that Spencelayh was inundated with letters from admirers enquiring about whether they might be able to purchase the items on view. Estimated at £250,000-350,000, the painting was reproduced on the front cover of the monograph on the artist published in 1978.

Herbert James Draper (1864-1920) was an artist drawn to the dramatic possibilities of classical mythology in the late 19th century and this sale will offer a recently rediscovered painting by him. Ariadne – estimated at £60,000-80,000 – was known to exist but has never been seen by the public. In 1905 Draper exhibited a painting entitled Ariadne Deserted by Theseus at the Royal Academy which was bought by a private collector at the time. Draper was then asked to paint a replica for a collector in America but the owner of the first picture was unwilling to delay delivery whilst a copy was made. Draper suggested painting a variant of the Royal Academy exhibit using the detailed sketches he had retained. Thus the present work was produced with an alternate composition comprising a tighter focus on the figure of Ariadne. The whereabouts of Ariadne Deserted by Theseus is not currently known and the rediscovery of this painting – which comes for a private collection in South America – will allow for further study into an artist in the most productive phase of his career.

Shoeing Imaum by John Frederick Herring Snr (1795-1865) represents the artist’s finest work from the period when he moved to Meopham Park near Tonbridge, and devoted his energies to genre painting. The central grey horse is Imaum, the famous Arab, originally a gift to Prince Albert from the Imaum of Muscat. The composition was a great favourite of the artist as he painted it on several occasions, with variations for different patrons. This version is estimated at £400,000-600,000.

The Green Waggon by Sir Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) is among a strong group of works by the artist to be offered in this sale. Munnings had a particular affinity with the gypsy way of life – their simple, rural and nomadic existence – and this painting is one of the finest of its type. The gypsies are all models who the artist had met on the hop farms of Hampshire and he harmoniously incorporates the group into the English countryside. It is estimated at £400,000-600,000.

The equestrian theme continues with an oil on canvas by Munnings entitled Ned Riding Grey Tick, Zennor Hunt, Cornwall, most probably produced in the year prior to the First World War (est. £200,000-300,000). The sitter is almost certainly Ned Osborne who is pictured against a deftly painted landscape and sky. In placing the rider – who is more precisely finished – moving away from the viewer, Munnings demonstrates his idiosyncratic take on a very traditional subject.

The female figure in various guises was one of the favourite subjects of Victorian artists and Sotheby’s sale includes a group of pictures which display a range from the classical to the mythological, through the contemporary. Spring Flowers by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) from 1911 depicts a vase of yellow narcissi held up by an auburn-haired girl. In the year before his death, Alma-Tadema painted a series of pictures in which the beauty of young women was essentially emphasised by blooms of flowers. Here, the subtle contrast of the yellow petals with the girl’s crepe-like cascade of red hair is reminiscent of painters of the Aesthetic Movement, particularly Albert Moore. The agate window seen behind was based on precedents the artist had seen at Pompeii and recreated in his studio at Townsend Road. However, rather than the usual Graeco- Roman maidens painted by Alma-Tadema, the figure in the present work bears closer resemblance to an Edwardian girl at home. Spring Flowers is estimated at £80,000-120,000.

An oil on canvas by John William Godward (1861-1922) invites comparison with the many classical subjects on offer in Sotheby’s sale. Lycinna was painted in 1918, four years before the artist’s suicide in 1922. Considered as one of the best, and the most serious of Alma-Tadema’s followers, Godward devoted himself to classical subjects painted with an extraordinary technical mastery. The present work – which takes its title from the name of the first love of Sextus Propertius, one of the greatest of all Roman elegiac poets – depicts Lycinna demurely dressed in violet and seen against a wall of varying marbles. By 1905, Godward felt his style of painting was no longer receiving critical acclaim and as a result he ceased to exhibit, selling his pictures through an agent and various dealers. This freedom gave him carte-blanche to paint what he wanted. This extended to the artist’s move to Rome with his Italian model and it was here that Lycinna – estimated at £60,000-80,000 – was painted.

The subject of the watercolour of Psyche by Sir Edward John Poynter (1836-1919) was familiar to the artist not only from the source material of the 2nd century but also through William Morris’ retelling in The Earthly Paradise (circa 1868-1870). Painted in 1884, it shows the melancholy maiden drawing aside a curtain to look from a balcony over Cupid’s pleasure garden. Poynter made a series of paintings and watercolours depicting heroines of antiquity and the present example was exhibited at the Royal Watercolour Society. It is estimated at £100,000-150,000 and comes to the market from a European private collection.

Furthermore, the sale will include an exemplary Victorian fairy painting. Pan and the Dancing Fairies / The Faun and the Fairies by Daniel Maclise (1806-1870) is an oval oil on panel depicting a fantasy contained within a double rainbow around which a circle of naked fairy-folk cavort. At the composition’s centre is a faun playing pan pipes for the amorous pageant. This work was owned by the novelist, poet, playwright and politician Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton. One of Maclise’s most magical pictures, Pan and the Dancing Fairies is an early example of a genre of painting that became popular over the next few decades. It is estimated at £100,000-150,000.

Several examples of traditional Victorian genre paintings will highlight the sale. A fine example is Short Change by James Collinson (1825-1881). After meeting Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt in 1848, Collinson was invited to become a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood but resigned two years later on religious grounds. Turning to genre subjects in the 1850s – after several years when he gave up painting – he displayed extraordinary technical skill together with a particular sympathy for the disadvantaged in society. This makes his work an invaluable and reliable source of information about the lives of ordinary people of the period. Collinson painted Short Change in 1858 and exhibited the work that year at the British Institution. The painting is suffused with humour; in a sparsely furnished interior a boy returns from market and attempts to conceal a whistle in his left hand from the woman who is clearly expecting change from her shopping. It is estimated at £50,000-70,000.

‘Problem Pictures’ was the term coined for a charming late Victorian phenomenon whereby visitors to the Royal Academy exhibitions were invited to solve ambiguous conundrums posed by certain paintings. They often became the subject of great debate and many newspaper columns were filled with differing opinions on their meanings. Sotheby’s sale includes a distinguished example by The Honourable John Collier (1850-1934). The Garden of Armida presents the viewer with visual clues to discern the drama’s narrative. The subject was based upon the epic Italian poem of 1581, Gerusalemme Liberata by Torquato Tarso. It told of the Christian warrior Rinaldo and a pagan sorceress named Armida who holds crusaders captive in an enchanted Syrian garden. Collier modernises the subject by depicting a young gentleman in contemporary evening dress, surrounded by a coterie of beautiful women carousing with glasses of wine at an al fresco banquet in a forest. He appears to be caught between temperance and temptation in a stoic resolve to resist his female companions’ charms. John Collier was born in London and raised to the peerage as Lord Monkswell. Supported by leading artists of the day in his chosen career, Collier was a prolific painter who produced at least a thousand pictures during his lifetime. The Garden of Armida is estimated at £100,000-150,000.

An important work by Charles Robert Leslie (1794-1859) – Sir Plume Demands The Restoration of The Lock, from Alexander Pope’s ‘The Rape of The Lock’ – is of particular historical interest. The figure of Sir Plume was based on none other than John Everett Millais and Leslie painted this scene at Hampton Court Palace with some of the furniture, including the screen and chairs, painted from examples owned by Lord Egremont at Petworth House. The picture, which depicts a scene from Pope’s mock-heroic poem of 1712, is estimated at £40,000-60,000.

Paintings by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893) have performed extremely well at Sotheby’s auctions over the last five years. The December sale will offer Princes Dock, Hull with an estimate of £200,000-300,000. The industrial cities of Britain and their commercial growth were the source of immense inspiration for Grimshaw, who celebrated the age of industry, commerce and conspicuous wealth with a series of paintings in which moonlight and lamplight contrast with one another, and skeletal trees or ship’s rigging are interchangeable. In the present picture of the docks at Greenock on the Clyde, a horse-drawn omnibus makes its way along the wet cobbled road with passengers sitting atop, whilst a hanson stops to await a more affluent customer. The imposing three-domed building visible through the hazy evening fog was the Dock Offices, now Hull Maritime Museum, and the monument is that of William Wilberforce, the Yorkshire MP and anti-slavery campaigner. Grimshaw’s growing popularity with art collectors in the northern urban cities encouraged him to paint scenes such as this. In recording the contemporary port’s role within Victorian life, they appealed directly to Victorian pride and energy.

The sale will include a work by Sir George Clausen (1852-1944) entitled December, estimated at £100,000-150,000. Painted in 1882 following Clausen’s return from Quimperlé in Brittany, the picture depicts two field workers wrapped against the cold trimming turnips in a sparse winter landscape. The oil on panel is notable for its uncompromising naturalism and adherence to the principles of French art that influenced Clausen during this period, including artists such as Jules Bastien-Lepage.

A rare work by William James Blacklock (1816-1858) – The Chapel at Haddon Hall – is estimated at £30,000-50,000. The oval painting depicts the chapel at the Derbyshire house of Haddon Hall near Bakewell, the seat of the Manners family. It is the earliest picture by the artist to have been offered at auction in recent history. Although Blacklock had no direct contact with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, his paintings have a similar intense clarity and attention to detail.

Two paintings by Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) are representative of the transition from the Victorian era into the Edwardian, and display the more ‘modern’ qualities associated with the period. On the Cliffs depicts two girls seated at the cliff-edge enjoying the last of the late afternoon sun. The subject for this oil on canvas was inspired by Knight’s move to Cornwall in 1907 and the rugged cliff tops between the coves at Lamorna and Portcurno. It is likely that the artist used numerous studies of three professional models for the figures. They had been summoned to Cornwall in 1911 for another picture and sketchbooks filled by Knight with various poses would have provided a constant source of ideas. The artist began her series of girls on cliffs in 1912 and this work has been dated to circa 1917, since the boldness of the colouring and dynamic composition is consistent with her mature work in Cornwall. Estimated at £250,000-350,000, On the Cliffs’ appearance at auction follows a watercolour by the artist – ‘Wind and Sun’, painted around 1913 – which was sold by Sotheby’s in London on July 15, 2009 for a record £914,850.

An earlier picture – In the Sun, Newlyn – can be viewed as part of a group of works painted during the artist’s first few years living in Cornwall that helped establish her reputation and recognition with the public. From a vantage point above the local guest house in Paul village, Knight depicts three children idling in the summer sunshine with Newlyn Bay and Penzance beyond. Dating from around 1909, it is the only picture from this seminal period to remain in private hands. Knight formed a close relationship with the artist Alfred Munnings during these years and it was to have a positive influence on her work, imparting a confidence to paint with Impressionistic bravura, a technique that ideally suited the artist’s depiction of sunlight and its effects on the landscape. Munnings said of Knight’s pictures at the time: “It was real sunlight that she represented”. In the Sun, Newlyn is estimated at £200,000-300,000.

The artist Sir James Jebusa Shannon (1862-1923) is represented in the sale with Portraits of Lorna and Dorothy Bell, Daughters of W. Heward Bell, Esq. (est. £250,000-350,000). A glittering career as a society portraitist beckoned following the artist’s debut at the Royal Academy in 1881 with a portrait commissioned by Queen Victoria of Her Majesty’s Lady-in-Waiting. The present work harks back to the traditions of portraiture from Gainsborough, through Reynolds and Lawrence, but with an emphasis on form created through tonal values that shows influences of French modernism.

Sotheby's | Victorian and Edwardian Art | Charles Spencelayh |

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