Works by little-known artists drew attention at different salerooms last month thanks in large part to the strong appeal of local or regional subjects.
A deceased estate from the Port Talbot area supplied Rogers Jones (22% buyer’s premium) with a group of 49 pictures relating to the River Neath in south Wales and its surrounding landscape. Opening the latest Welsh sale held by the auction house in Cardiff on March 12, all bar two of them sold for a total just shy of £50,000 with the bulk of the lots selling above estimate.
Two works by George Orleans Delamotte (1788-1861) were the best performers.
The artist was a talented landscape painter but only a few details about his life are known. He came from a family of artists whose parents were French refugees who emigrated to England – the family name seems to have been sometimes referred to as De la Motte.
He became an art teacher and it is thought may have lived in Bath or Bristol from c.1818 onward. His brother William, who became an architectural and landscape painter and printmaker and was drawing master at the Sandhurst Military Academy, is probably better known.
Of the limited number of George’s recorded works, most are images of the Welsh landscape. He is known to have visited Aberpergwm and Swansea in the early 19th century and later published a series of prints of landscapes of the Neath valley. A number of his prints and paintings are now in the collection of the National Museum of Wales.
Little track record
Commercially, though, he has very little track record. A group of six Welsh scenes, including one of Swansea and one of the mouth of the Neath, did emerge at Sotheby’s in 2007 and were offered as a single lot. They sold below estimate for £18,000, according to Artprice.
The two lots here included a fine small-scale panorama of the Neath estuary (different to the example at Sotheby’s). It was described in the catalogue as ‘in the Grand Tour style’ and had a date and title on a plaque to the mount: Mouth of the Neath River from Britton Ferry, 1820.
The 7½ x 11in (19 x 28cm) oil on panel showed four figures and a dog surveying the vista with boats sailing out toward the sea. The Turner-esque composition, with the trees dominating the foreground and attractive features such as the dramatic swirling sky, underlined Delamotte’s abilities more than any previous work that has emerged on the secondary market.
According to the auction house, the diminutive size and lack of a saleroom precedent led to the £200-400 estimate, although the ‘supreme quality’ of the picture meant that Rogers Jones expected it to do rather better (they promoted it extensively before the sale). But even the saleroom itself was shocked at the final price.
On the day it came down to two parties who “desperately” wanted to own the picture, according to Rogers Jones. One was a lady bidding in the room believed to have connections to the artist, the other a client local to the scene in the picture who was bidding online. After a prolonged battle, it was knocked down to the latter at £12,000.
The price establishes a new benchmark for a Delamotte and was an impressive sum considering its small size. With the fierce competition propelling the price upward, the saleroom described the result as “a fine demonstration of the advantages of selling by auction”.
The other Delamotte picture from the same collection fetched a lesser sum but also drew considerable attention. Another small oil on board, the harbour scene measuring 5 x 7in (13 x 18cm) again had its title to mount: Swansea Pier 1816.
This time the estimate was £100-150 and, with the strong appeal of another vintage Welsh subject and the style reminiscent of the Dutch Old Masters, it was bid to a £2200, selling to the same buyer as the above-mentioned estuary scene.
Royal Academy exhibit
From the same consignment but selling to a separate buyer was a scene of a boy on horseback by Richard Corbould (1757-1831). The London-born artist who specialised in landscapes, as well as illustrations of ships, was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy from 1777-1811.
Although he does not have an extensive record of selling at auction either (only 23 works are listed on the Artprice database), he is certainly a better-known painter whose images appeared in a number of popular periodicals of the day such as The Spectator and The Tatler.
The 17 x 20in (43 x 51cm) oil on canvas here was a Royal Academy exhibit from 1796 and was titled to the frame Aberdulais Mill, Glamorganshire. It suffered from a few surface marks but was otherwise in reasonable condition.
Estimated at £700-1000, it sold at £3400 to a private client in south-east England. The price again showed the boost provided by the local connection, although the fact that it was an RA exhibit and had an appealing subject with a dog chasing ducks in the water no doubt helped it too. The sum was more than double the previous high for Corbould at auction which has stood for over 20 years – a coastal landscape that sold for £1200 at Phillips in 2001.
One of the works from the consignment that the trade was able to secure was a dramatic landscape of The Vale of Neath with a waterfall by John Brandon Smith (fl.1848- 84). The 3ft 1in x 4ft 2in (93cm x 1.26m) oil on canvas was signed and dated 1892 and, although it had been relined, had no obvious condition problems.
Smith was another London-born artist who exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy, submitting a series of views of varied locations from Surrey to Scotland.
Rivers and waterfalls were something of a speciality and so the Vale of Neath, which is sometimes known as ‘waterfall country’, must have been an area with special appeal to him.
This example had serene lighting and was a good commercial size. Estimated at £700-1000, it took £1900 – a solid mid-range sum for the artist which again underlined its attraction to people who know and love this scenic part of the world.