Included in the May 26 auction at Mallams’ Oxford saleroom, Flowering Cactus nearly trebled its top guide to a trade buyer for £72,000 (see ATG No 2295, News). The current record, according to the Art Sales Index, is the £75,000 hammer paid at Sotheby’s London in 2005 for a melancholic portrait painted in 1920 of the Canadian poet Frank Prewett.
At Mallams, the 2ft 5in x 18in (75 x 45cm) oil on canvas was painted c.1931, a year before Carrington committed suicide, and had previously been owned by James Strachey, the brother of writer and founding Bloomsbury Group member Lytton Strachey, with whom Carrington had a long and complex relationship.
Later, it was bequeathed to the owner by James Strachey’s daughter, Simonette Strachey.
The hot red plant, painted in a pot wrapped in tissue paper, was described and pictured in Jane Hill’s biography The Art of Dora Carrington (1995). She describes it as perhaps one of the rare cacti that Dorelia McNeill, the common-law wife of the Welsh artist Augustus John, had given her in July 1931.
“Such was her eagerness to paint it, she put the pot, still in its tissue paper, into a saucer of water and then placed it on the bare wooden floor against the corner of a blue wall; lightly painting it, by tone, almost twice the size she had been painting portraits,” Hill wrote.
Source of art wealth
The same source also yielded a Frances Hodgkins (1869-1947) watercolour Still Life No 3, which sold at £8500, and an Augustus John (1878-1961) pencil sketch called Gypsy Girl, and perhaps depicting Dorelia McNeill, sold at £7000 against a £1500-2500 guide. It had been acquired by a descendant of the vendor at the Hamet Gallery, London in 1969.
Elsewhere, the other big-hitter among the pictures was a 21½in x 2ft 8in (55 x 83cm) oil on canvas by Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979). Orange and Yellow Lilies tipped just over top estimate to sell to an anonymous buyer at £54,000. The abstracted subject includes a grand piano, a chair and the vibrant blooms against a vivid background of browns, blues and purples.
Dating from the 1950s, the decade when Hitchens was chosen to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale, it came from a private collection.