The artist John Minton (1917-1957) has been on the rise both curatorially and commercially over the last five years.
In 2016, his auction record was broken twice when two large-scale Jamaican scenes sold at Christie’s for premium-inclusive prices of £188,500 and £293,000.
Bonhams also has a good record with Minton, selling works including a large pen and ink drawing Summer Landscape for a hammer price of £120,000 in June 2018.
Sandwiched between these results was the well-received centenary exhibition held at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester which brought the works of Minton – an ‘artist, traveller and hedonist’ according to the museum – to a wider audience in 2017.
While his colourful sun-drenched depictions of the Mediterranean and Caribbean, as well as figurative studies of young men, are the most sought-after pictures on the market, Minton’s more immediate works on paper are also highly regarded.
They demonstrate his skills as a draughtsman, developed in part during spells as an illustrator and designer.
Bonhams’ (27.5/25/20/13.9% buyer’s premium) latest sale of Modern British art – a behind-closed-doors event run from Knightsbridge – offered a 14 x 10½in (36 x 27cm) pen, ink and wash depicting the banks of the Thames in London.
Signed, inscribed and dated 1947, Cranes at Bankside depicted Minton’s primary subject matter during the post-war period.
From December 1946 to January 1947, Minton exhibited at the Lefevre Gallery alongside Keith Vaughan and Julian Trevelyan, showing nine oils and 10 gouache studies based on the quays and wharves around Southwark and Bankside.
In May 1947 he then produced a series of drawings of London docklands for an issue of the publication Our Time and, on the back of that, he was asked to complete three more views of the Thames for the July 1947 issue of Lilliput Magazine.
The work on paper at Bonhams was one of the three ink wash drawings that Minton produced as preliminary sketches for the Lilliput before the art editor asked him to rework his finished designs in colour (the other two drawings depicted St Paul’s from the river and Blackfriars Bridge).
Minton scenes of the Thames are not particularly common at auction. Bonhams sold one of the 1946 gouaches, River View from Bankside, for an impressive £16,000 in March 2007, while this wash drawing itself had previously appeared twice at Bonhams, first in July 2009 when it took £3800, and then again in March 2015 when it took £5000.
Pitched at £4000-6000, it achieved a further increase in hammer price when it was knocked down on top estimate at £6000.
Scott in full flight
A very different aspect of the Modern British market was referenced by the top lot in this Knightsbridge sale.
Mallard and Teal in Flight, a textbook oil of water birds against a lush summer landscape by Sir Peter Scott (1909-89) from 1967, had previously sold at Christie’s South Kensington in March 2010 for a premium-inclusive £51,650.
Scott, the son of Captain Robert Falcon Scott (of Antarctica fame) and sculptor Kathleen Bruce, was a keen conservationist as well as artist. He founded the Severn Wildfowl Trust (now the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust) and was also a founder of the World Wildlife Trust, making regular appearances on the BBC’s wildlife programmes.
This 6ft x 11 (1.52 x 3.35m) oil on canvas was a wide vista even by Scott’s standards. It was therefore a work requiring plenty of wall space and not something shown to full effect on the average computer screen. On the day it sold below its £25,000-35,000 estimate at £20,000, well down on the price it made a decade ago.
Badmin in St Ives
Another lot that showed a decline in fortunes since a previous auction appearance was Stanley Roy Badmin’s (1906-89) signed watercolour, pen and ink and gouache St Ives, Cornwall.
The artist is best known for pictures of the British countryside (he also produced some interesting views of North America after a commission from Fortune magazine in 1935) but this typically detailed 11 x 13½in (28 x 34cm) composition was one of a small number of views of the Cornish coastal resort that he exhibited in the middle part of his career.
Far removed from the more abstract works associated with post-war St Ives, it had previously sold at Sotheby’s Olympia for £5400 in June 2007 but 13 years later looked a little traditional for current tastes. Bonhams offered it with a £2000-3000 estimate and it was knocked down to a buyer on thesaleroom.com at £3200 – a decent sum for Badmin in the current climate.
Overall, the Bonhams sale raised a £491,340 hammer total with 187 of the 222 lots finding buyers (84%). The auction house reported a record number of bidders for the Knightsbridge department and the sold-by-value rate was 88%, an encouraging sign of activity under challenging conditions.
Among the other works selling above estimate were paintings by Christopher Wood (1901-30), Geoffrey Key (b.1941) and Michael Kidner (1917-2009).
The Wood work was a 2ft x 20in (61 x 50cm) oil on canvas from 1924 titled Woman in Black, a portrait of an unknown sitter which had previously been sold through The Redfern Gallery in 1938 and subsequently been in an American collection.
It was stylistically removed from Wood’s trademark pictures, including another work with the same title owned by Leicestershire County Council, but it certainly conveyed the wistful sense of the sitter.
Estimated at £6000-8000, it sold to thesaleroom.com at £9500.
Geoffrey Key’s oil on canvas Four Horsemen also attracted interest against a £3000-5000 estimate. Measuring 2ft 1in x 2ft 6in (64 x 76cm) and dating from 1969, it had a familiar subject for the Manchester-born artist and came with an artist’s label attached to reverse. The artist has a reliable following at auction and it was knocked down via thesaleroom.com at £6500.
The Abstract work Orange, Green and Violet by Kidner also attracted good interest against a £7000-10,000 pitch. A large oil on canvas from 1962, it was knocked down at £11,000.