With a focused stare and slightly manic expression, this powerful self-portrait (above) depicts Austin Osman Spare (1888-1956) aged around 50.
The south London artist, who was once hailed as the next Aubrey Beardsley but died in obscurity, explored the portrayal of the self throughout his career as a painter.
The pencil and coloured chalk work dates from 1935 and is one of the stars of an exhibition of self-portraits in London at British art specialist Harry Moore-Gwyn. It closely compares to another in the Victoria and Albert Museum executed in the same year.
“Spare was a true bohemian with an extraordinary personality. He was also a superb draughtsman and had a particular reputation for self-portraits, which were a significant part of his output,” says Moore-Gwyn.
Though Spare has always had a cult following among those who recognised his prodigious skill as a draughtsman, his work has begun to gain wider recognition only in recent years.
According to artprice.com, the current top 10 prices at auction for Spare’s works have come within the last seven years.
“Spare’s drawings make money because he is so distinctive but various dealers have championed him for a long time, including Rupert Maas,” says Moore-Gwyn.
The Spare portrait had passed through the Maas Gallery in 2002 and is priced at £8500.
Portrait of the Artist, which runs from June 15-30 at Moore-Gwyn’s gallery in Mason’s Yard, St James’s, brings together more than 40 drawings and oils on the theme of the artist as subject, spanning the 1800s to the present day.
Keeping company with Spare are self-portraits by John Everett Millais, Hubert Wellington, Francis Dodd and John Bratby among others.
“I’ve always found self-portraits absolutely fascinating and I always wanted to do a show on them,” says Moore-Gwyn. “I found I already had an interesting group of works, which is often how it goes for dealer exhibitions.”
The show also contains paintings of artist studio interiors, portraits of fellow painters, and other artist-related works such as a fine study by Dod Proctor of her hands. Among a small number of loaned works is a Wyndham Lewis portrait of fellow Vorticist Edward Wadsworth and a self-portrait of a young and confident David Bomberg dating from his time as Walter Sickert’s pupil.
Two of the top portraits for sale are offered with distinguished provenance. The John Bratby (1928- 92), which is a rare early self-portrait from 1961, was in the artist’s own collection until acquired by the dealer and collector John Constable towards the end of Bratby’s life (it has an asking price is £8500).
The drawing by John Everett Millais (1829-96), cautiously identified as a self-portrait largely on account of the sitter’s distinctive curls and sideburns, comes from the estate of the artist’s grandson, the painter Raoul Millais.
This confident and swiftly executed thumbnail sketch formed part of an archive of mainly early work Millais produced during the 1840s-50s. It is attractively pitched at £3750.