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A portrait thought to depict Francis Bacon which formed part of Jean Shepeard’s sketchbook that sold for £3500 at Batemans.

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The prices may not have been that huge but keen interest emerged when items from the collection of the artist and actress Jean Shepeard (1904-89) appeared at Stamford saleroom Batemans (20% buyer’s premium).

Offered on November 6, the works came from the estate of her niece, the sculptor Doreen Kern (1931-2021), and included over 600 original sketches which were grouped into 35 lots in the dedicated live online-only auction. Thirty-one of them sold for a £16,855 total (including premium).

In her early days, Shepeard trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, sharing a flat with Peggy Ashcroft and joining the Emotionist group of painters, musicians, philosophers, poets and actors.

Although she had a successful stage career (appearing in productions alongside John Gielgud, Anthony Quayle and Sybil Thorndike as well the 1942 film Thunder Rock with Michael Redgrave and James Mason), she was also a talented artist.

Shepeard became a fringe member of the Bloomsbury set, exhibiting with Vanessa Bell at the Modern Picture Library, and also showed her works alongside Francis Bacon and Roi de Mestre at Bacon’s Queensbury Mews rooms in 1930 – the only woman to ever exhibit with Bacon.

Two lots among the group stood out thanks to their connection with him and drew competition carrying them well over estimate.

According to the saleroom, both generated a mix of trade and private interest but were knocked down to the same determined phone bidder who was representing “an international art institution”.

One was a large archive of Shepeard’s letters, books, cards, newspaper cuttings and ephemera. Among this multitude of material, however, were two still photographs of Bacon’s 1930s Kings Road flat. Estimated at £200-300, it was knocked down at £3800.

‘Bacon portrait’

The other lot was a sketchbook that contained a series of portraits sketched by Shepeard including one thought to be a previously unrecorded depiction of Bacon.

If the subject was indeed correct, this would make it a rare picture of Bacon from this period.

In fact, details and images of Bacon’s life in the 1920s-30s are relatively scant (he also destroyed many of his own artworks from this early period).

Again estimated at £200-300, the lot was knocked down at £3500.

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Sketch of the artist Edward Wolfe by Jean Shepeard – £150 at Batemans.

Plenty of material was obtainable for less money at the sale. A charcoal portrait by Jean Shepeard of Peggy Ashcroft made just £45, one of the writer JB Priestly took £50, one of Alec Guinness also made £50 and one of the artist Edward Wolfe sold for £150. A collection of pencil sketches of Ronald Ossory Dunlop, the artist who supported her in her painting and became her lover, made £460 against a £300-500 estimate.