A rare album of 19th century watercolours assembled by the English social reformer and amateur artist Mary Carpenter (1807-77) emerged for sale at Forum Auctions (25/20/12% buyer’s premium) in London.
The 20 landscapes were painted in the 1830s by Carpenter and a circle of Bristol-based artists and friends. They came from the descendants of James Stevens Cox, a book dealer active in the 1940s-60s with a particular interest in south-west England.
Offered on November 21 with a £3000-5000 guide in a sale of Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper, the lot was secured by an anonymous institution via the phone for £6000. It outbid another phone and an internet bidder.
Richard Carroll, works on paper specialist at Forum, described the album as a “who’s who” of amateur artists, scholars and academics in Bristol in the 1830s.
Aside from the 10 by Carpenter, the album contained views by the architectural draughtsman James Johnson (1803-34) and watercolourists George Arthur Fripp (1813-96), Nathaniel Neal Solly (1811-95) and Samuel Jackson (1794-1869), the so-called ‘father’ of the Bristol School of artists.
Subjects included Bolton Abbey, Cheddar Gorge and Lynmouth in the UK and Greek views of Lake Marathon and The Acropolis. There was also a rare landscape by Anna Russell (1807-76), who was described recently as ‘perhaps the ablest and most outstanding woman field botanist of her time’.
Like Russell, Carpenter’s renown lay outside art. She was a leading female advocate of deprived and delinquent children in mid-19th century England, and one of the first philanthropists to see the need to provide special facilities for their care.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes her as developing “a compulsion to set the world to rights… with little interest in female accomplishments apart from watercolour painting…”
Forum has traced only four watercolours by Carpenter herself, all of which are held in the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery collection.
Elsewhere in the works and paper section of the sale a mix of UK and international collectors vied for a group of seven well-preserved Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69) etchings from a Gloucestershire lady.
According to Carroll, the collection had been kept in a small briefcase since the 1970s and had “not seen the light of day” since. “The collector had a very good eye and bought rare subjects with very small print runs using plates that largely have not survived, so later editions don’t really exist.”
These were mostly small and intimate etchings that would have been printed for the artist’s friends and connoisseurs. “What made these even more desirable were that some of the impressions and quality were very high,” Carroll added.
A third-state etching of a sleeping puppy, described in the catalogue note as ‘very scarce and delicate’, more than doubled hopes to sell for £12,000. A ‘good and even’ print from either the first or possibly second state of the print known as Self-Portrait in a Flat Cap and Embroidered Dress, c.1642, sold to a bidder via thesaleroom.com at £13,000 (estimate £3000-5000).
It had provenance to Hermann Weber (1817-54), whose massive collection of Old Master prints was dispersed across two Leipzig auctions in 1855-56. The group also contained a lifetime impression of the artist’s mother from the second state of four which tipped over top estimate to sell for £10,000.