Depicting a spiky tree between two tall buildings, the 22 x 15in (56 x 38cm) gouache on graphite on paper dates to 1954 – a year before a sell-out solo show at Victor Musgrave’s Gallery One in London put Souza on the map.
It was consigned to the sale in Donnington Priory, Newbury, from a UK private collection, where it had been for around 60 years. The drawing drew multiple bids from five phone lines before it was knocked down to an Asian buyer on the internet at £48,000, over three times the top guide.
A comparable watercolour measuring around half the size fetched 1.18m Indian rupees (around £14,000) at a Christie’s sale in Mumbai in December 2016.
Souza was a founder member of the highly influential Bombay Progressives, a small and short-lived group of six artists credited with igniting the Modern art movement in India.
Founded in 1947 and disbanded in 1951, the group combined traditional Indian artistic traditions with the emerging styles of the wider international art scene, especially European and American avant-garde.
Souza moved to London in 1949 and became the first post-independence Indian artist to achieve high recognition in the West. He emigrated to New York in 1967 and remained there until his death nearly 40 years later. Crucifixes (he was a Goan-born Roman Catholic) and nudes remained a constantly recurring theme in his art, although he also painted landscapes and still-lifes.
As an ‘enfant terrible’ of Indian art, Souza is a bankable name at auction, especially in his home country where a burgeoning art market has begun to flex its muscles in recent decades. Pictures from the 1950s-60s are considered the high point of his career, with oil paintings from the period currently selling for six-figure and occasionally seven-figure sums on the secondary market.
As an ‘enfant terrible’ of Indian art, Souza is a bankable name at auction, especially in his home country
The work featured in an inaugural sale of Modern and Contemporary art at Dreweatts on April 3 and followed a morning dispersal of Old Masters, British and European paintings and sporting art.
Combined, just under 300 lots were offered with a sell-through rate of around two-thirds and a hammer total of around £430,000.
Alongside the Souza, the afternoon session contained a seven-lot group of St Ives School pictures and sculpture from a long-standing private collection. The financial star here was a large 1980s abstract work by Terry Frost (1915-2003).
Black and White (Moorings) from 1985, a signed 5ft 5in (1.67m) square oil collage on canvas, was knocked down to a UK private buyer on the phone for a mid-estimate £26,000. This sum is relatively bullish for a later period work but some way off the top prices paid for abstracts from the high point of Frost’s career in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.
The group also contained two 1970s abstract sculptures by Denis Mitchell (1912-93), produced in the sculptor’s Newlyn studio, which he moved to from St Ives in 1969.
St Keverne (1971), a 15in (37cm) high bronze made in an edition of seven, was secured by a UK private buyer at £13,000 against a £6000-8000 guide. This was a modest improvement on another example from the edition that sold at Sotheby’s in November 2014 for £12,500 (with fees). Zagcone (1974), a 19½in (50cm) high unique sculpture and one of only a few Mitchell carved in Portland stone, was knocked down at £12,000 against the same guide.
An oil on board depiction of the finished sculpture was also offered and sold for double its estimate at £1600.
A sunset scene in oil by the Scottish artist Joan Eardley (1921-63) was eagerly contested to £14,000, nearly three times its top guide. Red Sunset, No. 2 was inspired by the coastal village of Catterline and its surroundings on the Angus coast. The paintings Eardley produced there are in stark contrast to her depictions of local street children in Townhead, Glasgow, for which she is best known.
A market-fresh watercolour gouache by fellow Scot James McIntosh Patrick (1907-98) was among the stand-out lots in the morning dispersal of traditional art at Donnington Priory.
The 23in x 2ft 11in (59 x 90cm) snowy rural scene was a departure from his usual Angus or Dundee scenes, instead showing a hunt assembling at a farm on Exmoor in south-west England. Acquired from the Fine Art Society in London in 1946 and passed by descent, it sold to an online bidder from the UK trade at £9000 against a £3000- 5000 estimate.
The sporting theme continued with 21 lots from the estate of the late racehorse trainer Peter Walwyn who died in 2017. Here, three typical 19th century horse portraits by John Frederick Herring Senior (1795- 1865) found new homes above hopes of £5000-7000 each.
The pick of the trio at £9000 was Miss Letty, a 14 x 17 ½in (36 x 45cm) oil on canvas, dated 1835, of a bay filly bred by the Orde family of Bolton Castle in Yorkshire. The 14 x 17in (36 x 45cm) was painted two years before Miss Letty won The Oaks at Epsom in 1837. The painting sold on the phone to the London trade.
The same source achieved a multi-estimate £8500 for an 18th century English School portrait of a boy, Thomas Tyndall, training his spaniel. According to the catalogue note, the bones, name plate and dog collar of this spaniel were later found in a lead mine near Bristol.
Proving harder to shift in the sporting section was a small group of equine works by Peter Biegel (1913- 88), including three English horse-racing oils guided at £8000-12,000 each. The only one to get away of the trio was Into the dip, Newmarket, which had provenance to the Rountree Tryon Galleries in London and took £11,000.
There was a time when coaching scenes by James Pollard (1792- 1867) commanded in excess of £20,000 on the secondary market, but tastes have changed.
A handful of dedicated collectors remain, however, as evident from the bidding for Pollard’s The Norwich Mail at the Coach and Horses, Ilford, a signed 14 x 18in (35 x 45cm) oil on canvas. It took £9200 against a £3000-4000 estimate.
An impressive portrait of Princess Henrietta Anne Stuart, the youngest daughter of Charles I, by the studio of Sir Peter Lely (1618-80) drew decent bidding against an £8000- 12,000 estimate. Consigned from a private collection where it had been since the 1960s, it was knocked down to an online buyer from the UK trade at £11,000.
Lely painted Princess Henrietta a number of times during her short life. This studio copy is based on a portrait at Goodwood House in Chichester, while another quarter length version is owned by the National Portrait Gallery in London.