sale of Old Masters, British and European Art on April 4 features some very fine English watercolours from an English private collection. They include a painting from David Robertss famous Holy Land series that is guided at £20,000-30,000.
Jane Oakley, head of paintings at Sworders, describes allure of the collection that was assembled over many years by a well-travelled private individual. It is always a pleasure as an auctioneer to handle a single owner collection. We gain a unique insight into the owners character and interests, and items that might on their own seem insignificant, make much more sense as part of a larger whole. This collection includes a variety of topographical works of places that were important to the owner most noticeably Israel and Palestine, but also northern France and their home in north London.
From the Grand tour onwards, the watercolour, by dint of its portability, became the medium of choice for the topographical artist. One of the pioneers of the Orientalist movement in the 19th century was David Roberts RA (1796-1864). It was his famous journey to Egypt and The Holy Land of 1838-39, the first unaided journey to the region made by a Western artist, that inspired future generations.
Robertss watercolour of Jaffa is dated March 26, 1839 and was probably painted on the spot. Depicting the ancient city port of Judea - where Noah is said to have built the Ark it features the colourful costumes, the exotic animals and the impressive architecture and ancient monuments that made the region so appealing to Western eyes.
Roberts made several views of the Jaffa, two of which were converted into lithographs for his monumental three-volume publishing project The Holy Land. This particular scene, blending masterful depiction of architectural detail with sweeping, less resolved areas of landscape, is taken from near the same viewpoint as the lithograph Jaffa Looking South. Estimated at £20,000-30,000, it is a rare opportunity to purchase such an important topographical painting from this early date.
Also by David Robert is the smaller watercolour titled Calais, the Lighthouse with Church Beyond and dated January 1832. With a provenance to the artists studio sale conducted by Christies on May 17, 1865, it is expected to sell for £2,000-3,000
While watercolours dont always have the punch of an oil painting, they possess a subtlety and delicacy that can be quite arresting. Generally speaking, watercolours tend to be of a more modest size and value than their oil equivalent. Currently buyers really can get exceptional quality for a more affordable price says Jane Oakley.
Hot on Robertss heels, travelling to the Orient in the 1840s was Edward Lear (1812-1888). The artist, illustrator and poet produced a huge number of dexterous on the spot sketches during his travels which took him as far as India. His view of Hebron populated by figures and camels with the city beyond displays a talent that used only economical touches of watercolour and white and rarely put a mark out of place. It is estimated at £5,000-8,000.
Other highlights of the collection include an extensive view across the desert by Albert Goodwin (1845-1932) entitled 'The Cities of the Plain', inscribed with words from Genesis 'And Lot pitched his tent towards Sodom' (estimate £2,000-3,000) and Hop Pickers, Cobham, a finely executed work by Thomas Hennell (1903-1945) estimated at £700-1,000.