'Red full-face self portrait 1961' by Bratby – £7000 at Olympia Auctions.

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They came from the estate of John Constable, a collector and dealer who amassed a remarkable collection of Modern British Art which had provided a colourful display at his Cotswolds home.

Constable died a few years ago and Harry Moore-Gwyn of Olympia has been helping to disperse the works over recent sales, including a number of Bratbys that sold at the west London saleroom in May (see ATG No 2497).

The two works offered on November 3, however, had been bought by Constable and his business partner Nigel Collins directly from the artist.

While Bratby pictures appear regularly at auction, the self-portrait here from 1961 was an early example of a genre which he would return to regularly in future years as he produced a series of typically unpretentious renderings of himself. It was also a strikingly narrow format; again, something he continued to experiment with later in his career.

The 4ft x 12in (1.22m x 31cm) signed oil on canvas was mentioned in a letter by Bratby to Constable written in Venice towards the end of Bratby’s life. The artist described the work as: ‘Self Portrait with Pipe in red pullover, worn for a decade, in very thin paint. 1961. Pre Fauvist period’.

Even if the paint was thin, the striking red colouring and combination of subject and format added to its attractive date and provenance in terms of its commercial appeal. Against a £2000-3000 estimate it was knocked down at £7000 to the UK trade.

The price topped the £5500 for Self Portrait with yellow Pipe that sold at Christie’s in May 2004, the previous high for a Bratby self-portrait.

Artistic licence


'The spirit of Venice: St Mark’s with erroneous geography' by John Bratby – £4400 at Olympia Auctions.

Selling to a different buyer, a later view of Venice that Constable bought from the artist’s studio in Hastings in 1990 took £4400.

Bratby had used some extensive artistic licence for the arrangement of the city’s landmarks and the 4ft x 3ft (1.23m x 92cm) oil on canvas had the whimsical title The spirit of Venice: St Mark’s with erroneous geography.

Estimated at £2500-3500, it sold via to a private UK collector.