While most regional auction houses with specialist picture departments schedule only three of four sales per year nowadays, John Nicholson’s (25% buyer’s premium) still holds such dedicated offerings monthly.
These sales in Surrey, typically containing a wide range of affordable to mid-range oil paintings, watercolours, prints and frames, total around £100,000 with a healthy contingent of bidders to mop up the 400 or so lots that pass through the Haslemere saleroom each month.
As well as being “brutal with estimates and reserves”, much of the popularity of these sales has to do with the fast turnaround, says Buffy Parker, picture specialist at John Nicholson’s. “Offering our Fine Painting auction every four weeks is really helpful for both buyers and sellers.”
The CSK effect
Parker has also seen a rise in bidders since Christie’s closed its South Kensington saleroom in 2017. “I don’t think we get many of the vendors [from CSK] but we certainly get a lot of the buyers.”
John Nicholson’s latest auction took place on July 31 and netted around £125,000 from 472 lots with over three quarters of the sale’s content finding new homes.
Among the lots in demand was a privately consigned group of small signed oil studies by the self-taught Anglo-Irish painter Ken Moroney (1949-2018). Moroney, who died last year, specialised in Impressionist painting and favoured Romantic Edwardian-style subjects. Prices for his works retail at over £3000 on the primary market.
At John Nicholson’s, around £10,000 changed hands from four buyers vying for the 15-lot group. Only one was unsold: a beach scene titled Saving Mother’s Hat. The group constituted beach and market scenes from the 1990s, and later French and English cityscapes including a view of a street in New York.
The highest-priced piece was The Seafront, a scene of figures on a promenade, with a private bidder paying a top-estimate £1200 to secure it. Another keenly contested work of a market scene in Italy found a buyer on top estimate at £700.
A French scene by the British naïve artist Mary Newcomb (1922-2008), also self-taught, was taken to double its top estimate before it was knocked down to a private buyer for £6000.
The 2ft x 2ft 4in (61 x 71cm) oil on board, Trees with Mistletoe, Brittany, dated to Newcomb’s trip to France in 1970. It bore a label for the Florentine gallery Vaccarino where she held a solo show.
The auction also contained a work by Felix Kelly (1914-94), the versatile New Zealand-born artist whose Surrealist-style pictures combine accurately rendered classical architecture. This typical Kelly creation, The Great Palace, Pavlovsk, St Petersburg, dated to 1970, came with old provenance to the fine art dealer Arthur Tooth & Sons. The 22in x 2ft 4in (56 x 71cm) oil on board was knocked down above the £2000- 3000 estimate for £4200.
Kelly travelled widely and executed commissions in India, the Far East, north Africa and the Caribbean as well as Russia. Another Russian subject by Kelly of the Cameron Gallery at Tsarskoye Selo, one of the numerous imperial estates situated to the south of St Petersburg and a particular favourite of Catherine the Great, sold in London at Christie’s in 2005 for £9600 (with fees).
Out of south Asia
Heralding from south Asia was a work by Senaka Senanayake (b.1951), one of Sri Lanka’s best-known living artists. This early oil, which showed women bathing in a pool, came from a local private source where it had reportedly been for a number of years.
Signed and dated 1981, the 2ft 8in x 3ft 9in (81cm x 1.14m) oil on canvas drew interest from Sri Lanka before it sold to a UK private buyer at £6000 (estimate £3000-4000).
Senaka achieved early fame as a child prodigy holding his first international one-man show in New York at the age of 10. He is best known for vibrant canvases depicting women, lush landscapes and endangered Sri Lankan flora and fauna. Earlier this year a canvas of female acrobats became the largest work by the artist to be offered at international auction, selling at Sotheby’s in New York for $43,750 (around £33,000 with fees).
Other highlights in Haslemere included a LS Lowry (1887-1976) print of Peel Park in Manchester with a Printers of Guild stamp, sold to a private buyer for a mid-estimate £4000.
A group of 20th century Russian paintings contained work setting a new high at John Nicholson’s for a painting by Alexandre Averine (b.1952). On the Seashore sold for £5000 to a UK private buyer (estimate £3500-4500).
An unstretchered canvas of a seated gentleman by the 20th century English painter Edward Handley- Read (1870-1935) made £4000 while a Maltese work of Valletta harbour by Girolamo Gianni (1837-95) proved popular, selling for £2800 (£600-800 estimate).