The arresting portrait by Scottish painter Anna Zinkeisen (1901-76) drew a fervent competition when it appeared at Great Western Auctions (20% buyer’s premium) in Glasgow.
The artist, as well as being a portraitist and mural painter, also worked for Wedgwood as a ceramics designer. The picture therefore combined two of her main interests as it showed the unknown subject carrying what appeared to be a piece of art pottery from c.1890, likely to be a British interpretation of a Persian urn.
Zinkeisen’s most famous work is a striking self-portrait from 1944 which is now in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Showing her as a self-confident working woman, it was probably painted in a disused operating theatre at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, where she worked as a volunteer casualty nurse during the Second World War.
The 2ft x 20in (61 x 51cm) signed oil on canvas here, though, was significantly earlier. It dated from 1921, the year she finished her studies at the Royal Academy School along with her sister Doris, who it seems could be a possible candidate as the composed subject of the picture.
At this time Zinkeisen had yet to decide to embark on a career as a portraitist and would soon receive a commission to design some plaques from the Wedgwood company (for which she was awarded a silver medal at the Exposition des Art Decoratifs in Paris in 1925).
Although she produced a wide variety of work over her career, Zinkeisen’s portraits certainly developed a notable reputation which later led her to paint subjects including Prince Phillip, Sir Alexander Fleming and Lord Beaverbrook.
In terms of her current market, while some of her still-lifes and colourful figurative works have sold at regional sales for £1000-4000 in the past, portraits are rarer and, as an early work, this was a slightly different proposition.
The picture in Glasgow had some scattered retouching but, estimated at £400-600 in the auction on March 20-21, it was deemed a tempting prospect to a number of interested parties.
It was eventually knocked down at £5500, a good sum for either of the Zinkeisen sisters based on prices recorded in the last few years.
A much later portrait of her daughter Julia (also an artist) sold for a premium-inclusive £3346 at Christie’s South Kensington in July 2004, while another of an unknown lady made £4800 at Bonhams in November 2006.
Elsewhere in the Glasgow auction, another lot going well above an attractive estimate was a portfolio of 10 silkscreens by Josef Albers (1888- 1976). Titled Homage to the square, they were from an edition of 250 published in 1962 by Ives-Sillman.
Although the German-born American artist’s original oils for this series can sell for six-figure sums, the prints too have a good following, as demonstrated when this group of 10, offered together as a single lot and estimated at £500-700, was knocked down at £6000.
Meanwhile, a record was set for Doris Zinkeisen (1898-1991) at Sotheby’s May 27 sale of works from the collection of London dealer Daniel Katz.
Portrait of Mrs Sanders Watney, a signed 3ft 7in x 2ft 10in (1.06m x 85cm) oil on canvas from 1937, had featured in the Defining Elegance exhibition at the Katz Gallery in 2018. It was offered at the Sotheby’s online sale with a £2400-3500 estimate. After 33 bids, it sold at £20,000.
A further portrait by the same artist, depicting Miss Edith Weaver holding a laurel branch, also overshot a £2000-3000 estimate and was knocked down at £8000.
More on the Katz sale to follow in a future Art Market.