Works by Mary Fedden (1915-2012) have been pretty abundant at auctions this summer with both prints and original works appearing at many salerooms around the country.
Among the most significant was a painting from the earlier part of her career that came to Tennants (20% buyer’s premium) of Leyburn, North Yorkshire, from a private London client.
Dating from just after Fedden moved to Chelsea in 1946, the still-life of a jug of flowers and pottery zebra sitting on a windowsill was produced while she was living in Redcliffe Road with her friend, the studio designer Maise Meiklejohn.
The works that she painted there in the years after the Second World War are stylistically different to her later still-lifes and coastal subjects and reflect her Slade School training both in terms of the life-like representation of forms and more muted palette.
This series of pictures helped launch her career, as she soon gained her first exhibition in 1947 at the Mansard Gallery at Heal’s, London, and was subsequently commissioned to paint covers for Woman magazine.
These earlier works, though, remain rarer and have less prominence on the market compared to her more prolific output from the mid-1950s onwards which mostly feature her trademark pared-down forms and flatter plains of colour. But the demand that emerged here, however, suggested these 1940s pictures may be on the rise commercially and could be a fast-growing part of her oeuvre if only there were enough of them about.
The 2ft 6in x 19½in (75 x 50cm) signed oil on canvas offered on June 19 was titled Redcliffe Road (pictured top), although it had been previously been called Still life with Staffordshire Zebra when it appeared in an exhibition at the Portland Gallery in 2019.
The vendor had acquired it at a Sotheby’s sale in November 2019 for £9375 including premium. At Tennants it was estimated at £6000- 8000 but sold at £17,000 to a London buyer – the sum representing a notable 80% return for the vendor.
Other than Julian’s mug (1975), a still-life sold for £23,000 at a Lyon & Turnbull sale in London in April, it was the highest price for the artist at auction this year (source: Artprice by Market).
Another work representing a less familiar part of the Fedden oeuvre appeared at Mitchells (22% buyer’s premium) of Cockermouth.
Moscow landscape came to auction on June 16 from a local private vendor who was downsizing. The 19¾in x 2ft 11in (50 x 90cm) oil on canvas was signed and dated 1960. It was given a £6000-8000 estimate by the Cumbrian saleroom.
Depicting cupolas in the distance with vegetation in the foreground, it was one of her less commonly seen cityscapes although the colours and technical approach were fairly consistent with Fedden’s more regular pictures. With the pitch not deemed as excessive for a work of this size and attractive date, the lot brought decent competition on the day and sold at £12,500.
Two later works on paper by Fedden also generated interest at Bellmans’ (22% buyer’s premium) sale of Modern British and 20th Century Art on June 29.
One was a watercolour and gouache dating from 2005 titled Picnic on the beach. Signed and measuring 7¾ x 6in (19.5 x 15cm), the picture had been purchased by the private vendor’s parents and was in good condition other than a brown spot to the upper left in the sky.
Estimated at £1500-2500, it was bid to £4800, selling to the trade.
The other Fedden work on paper at the Wisborough Green, West Sussex, saleroom was a slightly larger and earlier watercolour and gouache that also sold to the trade. Signed and dated 1995, Ermione showed characters on stage during an opera at Glyndebourne.
It overshot a £1500-2500 estimate and was knocked down at £3500, surpassing the £2000 for another watercolour depicting the lead character Pirro from Rossini’s Ermione that sold at Olympia Auctions in May.
Meanwhile, a work by Fedden’s husband Julian Trevelyan (1910-88) depicting Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was among the lots generating interest at Chiswick Auctions’ (25% buyer’s premium) latest sale of Modern & Post-War British art.
The 2 x 3ft (61 x 91 cm) signed oil on canvas was a colourful piece with a touch of surrealism which had been purchased from London dealer Lefevre Gallery by the vendor’s family in the 1960s.
Well before he married Fedden in 1951, Trevelyan had joined Stanley Hayter’s studio in Paris in 1931 where he was influenced by the likes of Max Ernst, André Masson, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso, and he went onto become a founding member of the British Surrealist Group.
Sought after on the grounds of its style, subject and market freshness, it exceeded a £7000-10,000 estimate on July 8 and was knocked down at £20,000 – a sum that ranks in the top 10 auction prices for the artist (source: Artprice by Artmarket).