Works by leading names in the Modern British art sector continue to perform well at auction – especially those with appealing subjects offered fresh to the market and with attractive estimates.
Ticking all the boxes was a spectacular landscape by Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) that appeared at McTear’s (24% buyer’s premium) latest British & International Pictures auction in Glasgow.
Sun Rays on the Malvern Hills, a 20in x 2ft (51 x 61cm) signed oil on canvas, came to auction from a private Scottish collector. It had a label on the verso for Glasgow dealer Ian McNicol.
Ahead of the auction on August 11, the saleroom contacted R John Croft, the artist’s nearest living relative (his grandmother was her sister) and chairman of the trustees of Knight’s estate, who is compiling a catalogue raisonné of her work.
He confirmed that the McTear’s picture will be included in the forthcoming catalogue which currently comprises 2500 pictures and for which he is hoping to trace the 1000 or so works still outstanding.
While views of Staithes and Cornwall as well as figurative works comprise a large part of her oeuvre, and her depictions of the Nuremberg trials produced while serving as an official war artist are also highly recognised, her pictures of Malvern and the surrounding landscape are perhaps lesser known.
Knight and her husband, the artist Harold Knight (1874-1961), made annual visits to the spa town in Worcestershire after first attending the Malvern Literary Festival in 1931, which was run by their friend Barry Jackson.
The couple later moved to a house in nearby Colwall where Laura would often paint views of the Malvern Hills, hop fields, traveller families and horse races, reputedly from the back of her antique Rolls-Royce with the door wide open – apparently the only car in which her easel would fit.
They stayed in Colwall until Harold died in 1961. Her first views of the local landscape were watercolours of sunrises that she observed from hotel room windows overlooking the Severn Valley, before she then started using thinly applied paint to capture the rays of light and ‘the floating strands of mist’.
In her autobiography she wrote: “It took years and years for me to become sufficiently familiar with the immense beauty of that landscape before I even dared to make the least record of such visual indulgence.”
Even still, the landscapes she produced represent a significant and distinctive body of work, although commercially they have never had as much prominence as her other subjects which appear more regularly.
Auction records indicate that around 30-40 of Knight’s paintings, watercolours and sketches of the Malvern Hills have sold at auction in the last three decades.
The highest recorded sums came for two works sold at Christie’s: Storm over our town, Malvern which made £40,000 in December 2009 and A valley at evening that took £32,000 in June 2009. Considering the six-figure sums commanded by some of her Cornish coastal scenes, for example, this area of her oeuvre may therefore be considered good value.
Despite this, the estimate of £4000-6000 at McTear’s always looked modest and plenty of competition emerged on the day both on the phone and online.
The lot was eventually knocked down to a buyer from England at £26,000, seemingly the highest price for one of Knight’s Malvern landscapes other than the above-mentioned works at Christie’s (source: Artprice by Artmarket).
Man of many talents
Elsewhere at McTear’s, another work drawing interest was a painting by Jersey-born artist Edmund Blampied (1886-1966).
A prolific printmaker and illustrator of stamps and banknotes that were used in the Channel island, Blampied also specialised in scenes with horses.
Across Country, a 10½ x 7½in (27 x 19cm) signed oil on board, was a small example but one which demonstrated his versatility as an artist.
Consigned from a private Scottish source, it had a label on the back from Glasgow dealer T&R Annan & Sons.
Against a £1000-2000 pitch, it was knocked down at £3700 to a buyer on thesaleroom.com – a decent sum for a work of this size.