Among them was Sleeper in Flight, an eerie painting of a floating male executed when he was just 22 years old and well before he began working as a sculptor.
The well-known work is illustrated in two major tomes on the artist including Michael Ayrton: An Illustrated Commentary (1978) by Peter Cannon-Brooke, who described the painting as marking “the maturity of the next phase of Michael Ayrton’s painting style”, with the figure based on the “youthful Nicholas Malleson” hovering over a “delicate landscape reminiscent of Paul Nash”.
Malleson was the son of actor Miles Malleson and was a childhood friend of Ayrton and John Minton.
The signed 24in x 2ft 5in (60 x 74cm) oil on board had been in a one-man exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in 1945 and was later owned by the English film star Robert Donat. Entered into a sale of 20th century art at North Yorkshire saleroom Modern Art Auctions (20% buyer’s premium) on November 6, it drew bids from two private collectors before it was secured towards the upper guide at £16,500.
In the same Scarborough auction, a Betty Swanwick (1915-89) watercolour titled The Strange Reply (1975), exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1976, was offered. It was secured by a private bidder on thesaleroom.com against interest from the trade and another private bidder for £5400 (£2500-4000 estimate).