Occasionally a single auction has the power to make a market for an artist. Ewbanks Auctions
have created that opportunity with nearly 200 lots of illustrations and original artwork by the late illustrator Barbara Firth (1928-2013).
To be offered on July 15, the collection acquired from Firths estate after she died in 2013 includes images from some of her most celebrated characters, including Waldo, the pet tortoise she kept till her death and who, at over 100, was considerably older than the artist herself.
Also featured are original illustrations for Sarah Hayes The Grumpalump (1991), a wide range of images from the Great Escapes series of stories, featuring animals such as Jack the Dog, Tumult the Rabbit and Romeo & Juliet the Lovebirds, as well as the magnificently bizarre tale of The Munros New House. There is even one original drawing from her most popular series involving Little Bear.
As auctioneer Chris Ewbank says: This is not the sort of auction that we expect to hit the headlines for the amount of money it might make, but it is exceptional in other ways, not least because it is filled with works that have come directly from the artists estate and because the strikingly beautiful work by Barbara Firth appears on the market so rarely that collecting prices for her are not really established, yet she has a keen following.
Unique opportunity for collectors
Many of the works are annotated with studio instructions and none are signed. Very few of her watercolours have ever come on to the open market and this collection provides a unique opportunity for buyers, with estimates from as low as £10-20 reaching up to around the £100 mark for individual lots.
Born in Cheshire, Firth enjoyed drawing as a child but had no formal art education. When she was three, she began drawing plants and animals, and when she was eleven years old, her family moved to the country, where she was able to spend even more time sketching the flora and fauna around her.
Delighting in her lack of training, she said: I have been very lucky, as my career in drawing is also my favourite hobby.
A career in fashion saw here as Vogue production director on books on crochet, knitting and dressmaking for 15 years before moving to Marshall Cavendish, where she met Amelia Edwards who commissioned her to illustrate non-fiction work. Firth established what was to prove a long-term partnership with publishers Walker Books and she collaborated regularly with Martin Waddell on his Little Bear books.
She won the 1988 Kate Greenaway Medal, awarded by the Library Association for
distinguished illustration in a book for children, for her work on Waddell's Can't You Sleep Little Bear, dubbed as perfect a picture-book as anyone could hope to make.
Firth lived much of her life in Harrow, with her sister Betty and a household full of pets including Waldo the tortoise.
The online timed auction will start at 9.30am, with bidders being able to browse the catalogue and register online at www.ewbankauctions.co.uk