One was a Paul Nash (1889-1946) depiction of the group of stone busts outside the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford.
Titled Monuments, the 21 x 14in (54 x 36cm) pencil and watercolour from 1932 was produced not long after the artist had given a lecture at the Oxford Arts Club in May that year. He wrote in a letter at the time: “I am anxious to do a few drawings in Oxford.”
In the same year the picture was illustrated and discussed in The Architects’ Journal as part of a review of a Leicester Galleries exhibition in which it featured.
The reviewer praised the character and beauty of Nash’s ‘sheer architectural draughtsmanship’ and mentioned the ‘lovely articulate line with a thin wash’ – something that caused a lively debate in the letters pages of the journal, in which architect and town planner Patrick Abercrombie derided “the limitations of modern draughtsmanship”.
Nash himself replied, calling Abercrombie’s letter “confused”, and caused “partly by some emotional disturbance such as cold rage or accumulated resentment”.
More recently, the author and Nash specialist Andrew Causey described this watercolour, along with another depicting just a single Sheldonian head, as the artist’s “most effective use of statues… in his drawings”.
The picture had an attractive provenance, having been purchased by a member of the vendor’s family from the 1932 Leicester Galleries show. It came with two letters from Nash to the original owner as well as clippings from The Architects’ Journal.
Estimated at £5000-7000 at the sale in Salisbury on May 31, it drew two phone bidders as well an interested party online. It was eventually knocked down to one of the former at £16,000.
The price looked pretty strong when compared to the £3200 for Souvenir of Oxford – the above mentioned watercolour of a single Sheldonian stone head – that sold at Christie’s in 2011.
Also bringing lively demand at the Woolley & Wallis sale was Hammersmith Hard, a pencil and watercolour by Sir Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956).
Heightened with bodycolour and measuring 22in x 2ft 6in (56 x 76cm), it came to auction from a private collection and was pitched at £800-1200. It was signed with the artist’s initials and inscribed Hammersmith FB to the lower right.
Brangwyn produced a number of works depicting Hammersmith after he moved to the London riverside area in the early 20th century – living at Temple Lodge in Queen Caroline Street until the outbreak of the First World War.
Most were etchings such as Old Hammersmith and Trees and factory, Hammersmith, copies of which tend to fetch sums in the low hundreds on the current market.
While works on paper by the artist appear regularly on the market, original views of Hammersmith such as this are much rarer and this one was fresh to the market having seemingly last changed hands in 1958.
Along with the attractive colouring, composition and size, this appears to have been the main attraction for the five bidders who competed for it on the day. It eventually sold at £5000 to a private collector, a sum towards the higher end for Brangwyn watercolours.