A new high for the artist at auction has been set by the mid-20th century canvas Living at Barnsbury Terrace, one of her so-called ‘romantic modern landscapes’.
Offered in the February 13 Art & Design Sale at Cheffins (22.5% buyer’s premium) in Cambridge, it is the second auction record for Johnstone the firm has established in four months.
The 3ft 11in x 6ft (1.21 x 1.82m) oil on board was painted in the 1950s when the artist owned two houses in Barnsbury Terrace in London with her mother, the musician Nora Brownsword. It was at this time that Johnstone found her creative stride, taking lessons with Cecil Collins, another maker of dreamlike landscapes, and studying the work of Christopher Wood and Paul Klee.
Typically wild and dreamlike in execution, Living at Barnsbury Terrace depicts a house with various tenants, the housekeeper Mrs Green beating a rug, the artist in a yellow coat and her mother entering the house.
Passed by descent to the vendor and not offered at auction before, the oil attracted multiple bids before it sold to an anonymous buyer at £13,000, over double the top estimate. This is more than twice the previous high of £5500 Cheffins achieved in October 2019 for the dreamscape landscape Two woman feeding birds, a hilltop town in the distance.
Brett Tryner, director at Cheffins Fine Art, said: “Johnstone’s work is becoming increasingly popular and this was a wonderfully busy composition that details an interesting time in her life living at Barnsbury Terrace. Anyone who owns a painting by her should certainly be heartened by the increased interest in her work.”
Also attracting strong interest were several lots from a collection of Post- Impressionist paintings owned by the late businessman Monty Passes and his American actor wife Barbie.
Of particular interest was a series of pictures by Béla Kádár (1877-1956), a prominent name of the early-20th century Hungarian avant-garde and known for incorporating folklore and peasant life themes into his art. He also employed aesthetics from a range of movements including Constructivism, Cubism, Futurism and German Expressionism.
The sell-out eight-lot group contained abstracted figures, fractured landscapes and other subjects rendered in the artist’s typical brightly toned palette, and had been bought from London galleries in the 1970s.
Woman With Pearls, a striking 2ft 2in x 17in (66 x 44cm) gouache on paper dated 1922 and epitomising the strong influence of the European avant-garde on Kádár, was pursued to £12,000, well beyond an £800-1200 guide. Also selling strongly was a slightly larger Cubist-esque gouache on board titled Two Sisters purchased for £7500 (estimate £1500-2000).
Similar to Chagall
Another painting to sell well from the collection was Les Musiciens, an oil painting of Hasidic characters by the Ukranian Jewish artist Emmanuel Mané-Katz (1894-1962) who worked in a style similar to the more famous Marc Chagall. Typical of the artist’s work in subject matter and in the loose gestural brushstrokes, the picture sold on thesaleroom.com for £8000 (estimate £1500-2000).
Of note elsewhere in the 493-lot sale, which totalled £300,000 and was 91% sold by lot, were two pictures by James Dixon (1921-2006) – the artist sometimes dubbed ‘the Irish Alfred Wallis’ – covered in last week’s News (ATG No 2431).