A further sign that the growing demand for works by female artists is being felt not just at the top end of the art market came at one of the first sales of the new year.
On offer at Parker Fine Art Auctions (25% buyer’s premium) in Farnham on January 6 were three works by Rowley Leggett (1878- 1945). Although stellar sums were not registered, they made the three highest recorded prices for the artist at auction, with each selling to a different buyer.
All from the same source, they seemed to represent her changing style and subject matter, ranging from a traditionally styled rural scene to a more Impressionistic picture and then to a work with a Post- Impressionist approach.
Leggett grew up in Upper Norwood in south London and studied in Paris as a young woman (her work was later shown at the Paris salon). She held her first solo show at The Continental Gallery in 1903 before then exhibiting over the next two decades at the Goupil Gallery, the New English Art Club, the Royal Cambrian Academy, Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the Society of Women Artists and The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool among others.
Moving to Surrey and then West Sussex, where she lived until she died, she continued to paint interiors, still-lifes and rural views.
Today she has little presence on the market, although one or two members of the trade have handled her work in recent times. Only around a dozen works are recorded as having sold at auction in the last 30 years, the highest price being £650 for a painting of a farmstead at Brightwells in 2015.
Parker set the estimates of these three works at similar levels to previous results and may have been slightly surprised to see them all attracting a level of interest taking prices to four figures.
Returning Home, a small signed painting of two horses and a figure on a country lane, attracted no fewer than 44 bids against a £150-250 pitch. It was taken up to a final £1800 on thesaleroom.com – almost tripling the previous record for Leggett.
Although equine pictures are a known part of her oeuvre, the 8in (22cm) square oil on canvas had a subject never seen previously for one her works at auction. That could explain why it made the highest sum of the three works in Surrey, even though it was the smallest in size.
A separate buyer secured a 14 x 17¾in (36 x 45cm) oil on artist’s board showing a landscape outside the south coast village of Rottingdean. A freely painted and airy picture, it surpassed a £200-400 estimate and was knocked down at £1000 to an online bidder.
A more experimental work was the colourful street scene of Paris pitched at the same level. The 10½ x 13¾ (27 x 35cm) oil on panel drew slightly more demand, selling again to a different bidder at £1500. While these sums are probably not high enough to completely transform Leggett’s market entirely, they do point to it heading in the right direction.
These lots were not the only pictures at the auction to generate interest against relatively low estimates.
An eye-catching photogravure dating from 1907 of the French ballerina Cléo de Mérode (1875-1966) – reputedly the most beautiful and most photographed woman of her day – also drew competition against a £400-600 pitch.
It was effectively a printed copy of a well-known portrait from 1901 by the leading society portraitist Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931). The 2ft 3in x 22in (69 x 56) image was handfinished with paint.
Interest in the sitter has increased in recent times after she featured in various articles and books about the rise of celebrity culture, so perhaps it was a good time to sell.
After a battle between two online bidders, the picture was knocked down at £3400 to a private collector who, according to the auction house, was attracted to it as it “speaks of the very essence of the Belle Epoque”.
By way of comparison to the price of an original work, the result was some way behind that for a pastel sketch of de Mérode by Boldini that took €36,000 (£29,735) at Italian saleroom Pandolfini Casa d’Aste in April 2014.
Major Mod Brits
Elsewhere in the Farnham sale, two major names in the Modern British market were represented by highly recognisable subjects.
A print of The Fever Van by LS Lowry (1887-1976) bearing a Printers Guild stamp was estimated at £2000-4000 but took £7500, selling online to a Lowry collector who grew up near Salford, the setting of this scene. While the original painting from 1935 is in Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery, this 16¼ x 20¼in (41 x 51cm) colour print appears to have made the most ever recorded at auction for a reproduction.
The picture itself shows an ambulance collecting a patient who was probably suffering from scarlet fever or diphtheria, both highly contagious diseases and widespread in industrial Britain at the time when Lowry was painting.
Also selling above estimate was a sketch of an osprey by Dame Elisabeth Frink (1930-93).
A 2ft 5in x 3ft 6in (73cm x 1m) watercolour, it was signed and dated ’69 and had a familiar subject for the artist’s followers as birds were a recurring theme in her work for over two decades. In typical muted colours for a Frink work on paper, it was pitched £1500-2000 and tipped over estimate at £2200.