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The group, comprising 17 well-preserved watercolours and three oils by notable 18th and 19th century artists such as William Payne, Francis Towne, Nicholas Matthew Condy and John Nixon, all got away to the tune of £57,000.

Devon, with its picturesque rolling hills and fine coastline, was a popular destination for the romantic watercolourists of the 18th century, and this collection included both coastal and countryside views.

It had been assembled over several decades by the late Martin Beaver, whose family originated from the area. He bought mostly from galleries in London, including Spink and Agnews, in the 1970s.

“These pictures had all of the elements which the market wants – fresh to the saleroom, strong provenance and the good eye of their former owner and collector,” said Brett Tryner, associate at Cheffins.

Softer market

Despite a softer market for mid-range traditional watercolours, which was reflected in the group’s conservative estimates, Cheffins reported strong buying at the June 13 sale from a range of areas.

They included Swansea and Yorkshire as well as Devon, with a mixture of trade, private and museum buyers involved.

“The sale demonstrates there is still significant demand for traditional watercolours despite rumblings in the market indicating otherwise,” said Tryner.

Eight of the works were by William Payne (1760-1830), the highly rated draughtsman and etcher who invented the tint ‘Payne’s Grey’. The group featured views of Topsham, Stoke Church, Orestone and other scenes near Plymouth, where the young artist plied his trade early in his career.

Against enticing guides, they all sold for multiple-estimate sums, including a strong price for Payne’s Penny Cross Church, Devon.

The circular watercolour in a 12in (30cm) mount had provenance to The Fine Art Society in London in 1946 and made £6500 against a £200-300 estimate.

That is not far off the record £7500 paid at Christie’s London in 1998 for a large view of Plymouth, according to the Blouin Art Sales Index.


Penny Cross Church, Devon by William Payne – £6500.

Towne work

A watercolour by the group’s best-known artist, Francis Towne (1740-1816), topped the price list. Depicting a lane in Wonford, near Heavitree, Exeter (the place where the artist and his wife were later buried), the 8 x 6in (20 x 16cm) work sold for £8500 against a £500-1000 estimate.

Although reasonably well known in his lifetime, Towne was largely forgotten until the 1950s when he was recognised as an important figure in British watercolours and his works began to appear in major museum collections.

Half-a-dozen works by another watercolour heavyweight, John White Abbott (1763-1851), all sold above appealing guides to total £15,200. The most expensive, knocked down at £3800, was Abbott’s view of people processing to church in Meavy, Devon.

Signed with initials and dated Augt. 11, 1834, the diminutive 5 x 8in (13 x 20cm) pen, grey ink and watercolour had appeared at Christie’s London in 1970 and then at Spink.

Multi-estimate sums also emerged for two romantic views of Dawlish and Totnes by John Varley (1778-1842), which sold for £3000 and £2400 apiece.

The quartet of Devon oils was led by a 11 x 15in (29 x 39cm) marine painting by Nicholas Matthew Condy (1816-51), dated 1834 and depicting shipping on the Tamar, near Plymouth.

It sold for £3600 against a £2000-4000 guide.