By the 1940s, he was the most expensive portrait painter in Britain, charging 1000 guineas for an oil portrait and limiting the number of commissions he would accept to 20 per year. Inspired by 15th century painters such as Piero della Francesca, Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, Brockhurst juxtaposed his meticulously painted modern sitters against distant Renaissance-style landscapes.
These signature Brockhurst portraits have grown in value on the secondary market over the last few decades, with a premium paid for those depicting the rich and famous.
In 1999, Sotheby’s New York sold a portrait of the Duchess of Windsor for $95,000, while Brockhurst’s unfinished canvas of movie star Marlene Dietrich sold at Sotheby’s London in 2008 for a premium-inclusive £67,250.
Movie star portrait
A decade on from the latter’s dispersal, Heritage Auctions (25/20/12% buyer’s premium) of Dallas, in Texas, offered the portrait of another famous sitter, 1930s movie star Merle Oberon.
Consigned from the sitter’s family, the well-documented work had not been offered on the market before and was arguably the most striking to appear at auction yet. It was painted in the artist’s Chelsea studio in 1937, while Oberon was in London filming I, Claudius, two years before she played her defining role as Cathy in Wuthering Heights opposite Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff.
The 2ft 9in x 2ft 5in (86 x 74cm) oil on canvas, which shows the sitter in a costume with bold winged shoulders and a bejewelled headdress, had also hung on the walls of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition the year it was painted.
Guided at a conservative $40,000-60,000 guide, it drew multiple bids before it was knocked down at $290,000 (£228,350), a hefty auction record for Brockhurst.
The previous high was the £128,500 set at Christie’s London in June 2014 for Nadia, another portrait of a young woman believed to date to the 1920s.
Kubin rises in value
Czech avant-garde artist Otakar Kubin (1883-1969), sometimes referred to as Othon Coubine, is another painter whose value has risen considerably on the secondary market.
Consigned to Heritage Auctions was a 2ft 5in x 3ft (73 x 92cm) oil of a female nude executed in the 1920s. The model is Berthe Chaix, the painter’s wife, whom he met in Provence and married in 1921.
Chaix was his preferred model, and a comparable image from the same period is in the collection of the Moravian Gallery in Brno in the Czech Republic.
Bidders from the artist’s native country and his adopted country of France vied for the painting before it was knocked down at $32,000 (£25,200), more than double the top guide and among the highest prices for a Kubin nude at auction.
In October last year, Chiswick Auctions in west London sold five works for multi-estimate sums to European galleries mainly in the Czech Republic, including a £12,000 nude of a similar size and date but with several rips to the canvas (see Art Market, ATG No 2363).
The artist’s earlier Impressionist and Cubist pictures remain his most sought-after. In March last year, Paris auction house Artcurial sold a series of such works for €670,700 (around £590,000), breaking a four-year auction record for the painter twice during the sale and achieving €244,600 (£173,475) for 1909 work La récolte des pommes de terre.
In a separate sale at Heritage Auctions on December 7-9, over a dozen bidders pursued an 18th century English School swagger portrait of a gentleman in Turkish dress.
Consigned by the titled family of Archibald Ralph Montagu-Stuart- Wortley-Mackenzie, 3rd Earl of Wharncliffe, the portrait is believed to depict Edward Wortley Montagu (1713-76).
The purported sitter, only son of Sir Edward Wortley Montagu (1678-1761), British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, settled in Venice in 1773 after years of adventuring in the Middle East, where he lived in the Oriental style. He pretended to be the illegitimate son of the Turkish sultan, which entitled him to wear the saffron turban of a prince of the Ottoman Empire.
Driven by bids from 13 collectors, the painting was knocked down at a multi-estimate $27,500 (£21,650) to claim top spot in the sale.
The most famous depiction of Montagu was painted by George Romney and sold at Sotheby’s London in July 2014 from the collection of the Earls of Warwick.
Considered one of the artist’s greatest portraits (and the only painting currently known to survive from Romney’s two-year trip to Italy between 1773-75), it achieved a premium-inclusive £4m, making it the most expensive painting by the artist to sell at auction.
£1 = $1.27