A series of understated images of suburban London during the first half of the 20th century earned artist Harry Bush (1883-1957) the epithet ‘Painter of the Suburbs’.
Much of the Brighton-born artist’s output, including two dozen Royal Academy exhibits, was concerned with the immediate surroundings of his home and studio in Queensland Avenue, South Wimbledon, where he moved in 1914 with his wife, fellow painter Noelle Nisbet.
Inspired by the quiet domestic scenes in Dutch and Flemish art, Bush infused his canvases with a sense of suburban calm, focusing on the geometric-shaped houses seen from the studio of his home.
During the Second World War, he painted bomb-damaged homes and rubble-filled gardens in and around Wimbledon. A few of these works are in the collections at the Imperial War Museum in London.
Though his pictures are still shown publicly – an early 1920s view of the artist’s back garden owned by the Museum of London is currently on loan to the nearby Guildhall Art Gallery for the exhibition Architecture of London – they seldom appear at auction and have not achieved high prices for some years.
That changed on October 8 when two large signed oils depicting views from the artist’s house in Wimbledon were offered at Dreweatts (25/20/12% buyer’s premium) in Donnington Priory.
Part of the sale titled A Collector’s Eye containing the contents of two private collections, the works – a wintry oil and a larger summer scene estimated at £2000-3000 each – had last sold in a studio sale of Bush’s works at Christie’s in 1984.
The summer scene, dated 1953 and measuring 3ft 4in x 4ft 2in (1.02 x 1.27m), was eventually knocked down at £16,000, an improvement on the £2400 it totalled at Christie’s and the highest price at auction for a Bush work. The other, dated 1940, made a more modest return on the £4000 it sold for in 1984, taking £5000.
Dreweatts picture specialist Jennie Fisher said competitive bidding came from several sources both in the room and online. “These were very good, large examples of the artist’s work and had not been seen on the market for many years,” she added.
The sale-topper at Donnington Priory came from the 60-lot collection of the late Max Harari. The 19th century marine painting depicted an event from the Greek War of Independence and was reputedly purchased from Princess Diana’s father, the 8th Earl Spencer.
Painted by the Scottish marine artist John Christian Schetky (1778- 1874), the 2ft 2in x 3ft 7in (67cm x 1.08m) work, dated 1831, depicts the 28-gun frigate HMS Talbot, which was commanded by Diana’s great-great-grandfather, Frederick Spencer, 4th Earl Spencer, in action at the Battle of Navarino on October 20, 1827.
Although mostly contested at anchor, it was the last major naval battle to be fought entirely with sailing ships. An Ottoman fleet including imperial warships and squadrons from the eyalets (administrative divisions) of Egypt and Tunis was decisively defeated by an Allied force of British, French and Russian warships.
Deemed to be a fine example of the artist’s work, it was knocked down at £34,000, well in excess of the £6000-8000 guide.
“Much like the Harry Bush works, this is a market that has not consistently seen such high prices for some years but proves that the market remains strong for good quality works with specialist interest,” said Fisher.
The painting was bought by the Society for Hellenism and Philhellenism, which owns a collection of documents and objects relating to the Greek War of Independence and the establishment of the modern Greek state.