The topographical watercolour sketch of an unknown quarry, with a small figure, a campfire and pieces of quarry equipment, was offered in a dedicated sale of Welsh art and antiques on March 24.
Against competition online via thesaleroom.com, it was secured on the phone by the London trade for £30,000, double the top estimate.
The 10 x 14in (26 x 35cm) pencil and wash on paper watercolour, simply titled A Slate Quarry in Wales, came from a private collection of academic English watercolours, put together by the deceased husband of a lady in the Vale of Glamorgan.
Rogers Jones traced its last auction sale to Christie’s London in 1978 when it sold for £1400, the equivalent of around £7600 today.
Originally catalogued as ‘probably’ dating to 1798, it was later suggested that the work may have been slightly earlier, c.1794-96.
As a young artist, Turner made six visits to Wales between 1792 and 1808, producing numerous topographical paintings, etchings and drawings. The most expensive Welsh watercolours by the artist depict the country’s castles, with several major examples selling for six-figure sums.
Kyffin knocked off top spot
As usual, 20th century Welsh art made up much of the picture section in the sale.
The canvases of Kyffin Williams (1918-2006), Wales’ highly commercial 20th century painter, were among the most expensive sellers once again, but bidding was rather subdued, and he failed to take the top Welsh spot.
A combination of slightly less appealing subject matter and a more maturing market were the likely culprits, said auctioneer Ben Rogers Jones. “In essence, the whole market is polarised between his best stuff making record prices, and the rest which is a bit flatter.”
Instead, the highest Welsh picture price was claimed by John Knapp Fisher (1931-2015), another of Wales’ pre-eminent 20th century landscape painters.
Strongly influenced by the St Ives School, Fisher concentrated on small coastal areas often within walking distance of where he lived, first in East Anglia and then along the Pembrokeshire coast in south Wales where he resided from 1965 until his death.
His work, characterised by a limited palette of earth colours and striking chiaroscuro, has gained traction on the secondary market in more recent years as his popularity has grown beyond Wales.
The top lot was an unusually large 22in x 2ft 5in (56 x 75cm) mixed media work dated 2000 which showed a farm on the north Pembrokeshire coast. It sold above a £10,000-15,000 guide at £17,500.
It pipped Girl in the Rape Field, another rare large work that sold at Rogers Jones in 2016 for £16,000, becoming the most expensive work by Fisher to sell at auction.
Bankable Welsh names
Other bankable 20th century Welsh names included the Expressionist painter Will Roberts (1907-2000), Jack Jones (1922-93), dubbed ‘the Welsh Lowry’, and the vibrant landscapes by John Elwyn (1916-97).
Each artist had multiple works in the sale that largely got away for three- and four figure-sums.
The canvases of Roger Cecil (1942-2015), known best for his abstract mixed-media work, are also performing better on the secondary market.
A small group of rare nudes by the painter garnered the keenest bids, including a signed 20in x 2ft 6in (52 x 76cm) oil on canvas, dated 1967, which took £1050 against a £400- 700 guide.
Elsewhere, a 10 x 13in (25 x 34cm) oil on canvas of a village by the prolific Polish-British Realist Josef Herman (1911-2000) drew competition and was knocked down above the £5000-6000 guide at £7000.
Herman spent a decade from 1944 living in Ystradgynlais, a mining community in south Wales, and his work from this period is keenly collected in the Principality as a result.