Babbage, the great grandson of the mathematician Charles Babbage, was born in Adelaide but moved to New Zealand with his family when he was five. He came to Europe to study at the London School of Art in 1902 and then at the Académie Julian in Paris.
Having moved back to New Zealand in 1909 before returning to England and living in St Ives from 1913, he painted landscapes and seascapes in watercolour and oils both in Cornwall and his homeland.
One of the former, titled Fishing Fleet Rounding the Head, a 15 x 19in (38 x 48cm) signed oil on canvas, appeared at the Cornish Fine Art sale on July 22-23 with an estimate of £150-250. It was in good condition and, although not especially large, was above average size compared to other works sold at auction.
Indeed, works by Babbage appear infrequently on the market due to the lower supply caused by his early death (he had joined the Royal Defence Corps in the First World War but died after suffering health problems following an operation).
Crucially, this picture was a Royal Academy exhibit from 1908 and it demonstrated the best features of the artist’s work: light on the water and gathering clouds.
After drawing strong bidding, it was knocked down at £2600, a record for the artist (source: Artprice by Artmarket) surpassing the previous high which was set in September 2020 when a view of the Thames with Tower Bridge sold for £2200 at Woolley & Wallis.
Women at work
Another early 20th century painting in demand in Penzance was a vintage figurative study by Nora Lucy Mowbray Cundell (1889-1948). Typically depicting working women, the 21in (53cm) oil on canvas dated from 1925, two years after she held her first solo show at the Redfern Gallery.
Estimated at £1500-2500, it had undergone some restoration work and slight retouching in the past but sold at £6500. That was the highest sum at auction for the artist other than Getting Dressed, a picture of two children from 1919 that has twice made more at Sotheby’s – once in 1985 for £21,000 and again in 1998 for £28,000.
Buoys will be buoys
Elsewhere at the David Lay sale, a rather different type of picture on offer was a signed acrylic and collage on canvas by Terry Frost (1915-2003).
Summer Buoys, Newlyn, an Abstract measuring 22in (56cm) square, was a late work dating from 2001 but it overshot a £4000-6000 estimate and sold at £10,000.