Life study by Kathleen Scale

An unfinished life study by Kathleen Scale from 1934. The 2ft 6in x 19.75in (76 x 50cm) oil on board is estimated at £300-500. View the catalogue entry for this lot.

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While most of her works have been hidden away unseen for over 50 years, a group of 31 distinctive paintings and drawings from her early career have come for sale at Duke’s on April 25 directly from the artist’s twin daughters. Described by the Dorchester auction house as ‘highly evocative of the period’, they were previously kept in an outbuilding which started “to get crumbly and damp” before a friend agreed to take them into her barn.

“The paintings haven't seen the light of day for many years and some have never been seen since they were painted in the 1930s,” the sellers told ATG. “Eventually, at the end of last year, we decided to auction them, the main reason being to get her name known in the art world where we think she deserves to be.”

The Duke’s sale is seemingly the first time Scale’s work has appeared at auction and estimates range from £50 up to £2000. The auction house has sourced two further works from different vendors which will feature in the same sale.

The twins said that after their mother died in 2006, works from her studio were packed up in wooden crates and moved to the outbuilding where one of their husbands kept his tractors. Despite remaining there for around 15 years before heading to the barn, they are described as in “pretty good condition considering their age and history”.

“Sadly none of us had room to hang them,” said the vendors. “Our mother told us ‘don't let my paintings be a nuisance’.”

Exhibition history

Although she is little known today, in the 1930s Kathleen Scale exhibited at the Royal Academy, the New English Art Club and the Royal Society of British Artists. Inspired by a wide range of genres including Art Deco imagery, contemporary mural painting and Renaissance art (her work often features mythological and biblical subjects), her pictures during this period typically feature figures in wavy landscapes with nudes or figures wearing classical drapes or contemporary dress.

Scale also worked as a mural painter as well as a set and fashion designer with her work appearing in Vogue and other publications. Punch magazine published several imitative cartoons of her RA paintings.

In 1936 Scale was invited by the National Gallery of Canada to exhibit at a show of Contemporary British art together with George Spencer Watson, Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Stanley Spencer. However, while all these artists have become major names on the market today, Scale has fallen off the radar.

After marrying an army officer, Rupert Harding-Newman, at the beginning of the Second World War, a combination of army life and three children meant her painting effectively took a back seat (although she continued to take portrait commissions and produce decorative flower studies).

The artist eventually settled in Dorset, becoming a near neighbour and friend of Elisabeth Frink.

Kathleen Scale portrait

One of Kathleen Scale’s earliest portraits, this 17 x 16in (43 x 41cm) oil on panel is estimated at £50-100 at Duke’s. View the catalogue entry for this lot.

In 1995 Scale held a retrospective solo exhibition at Dorset Museum which was opened by fellow artist Mary Spencer Watson, the daughter of George Spencer Watson who had exhibited with Scale in the 1930s. It was curated by art historian Gwen Yarker who said: “The exhibition was such a success – popular and also fun – that the run of the show was extended. Over 70 works, both paintings and drawings, were sold. It was moving to observe Scale reviewing her life’s work in that one gallery.”

Many of the works at Duke’s had featured in the exhibition.