The late art dealer, who helped develop the historic London gallery Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox into an international force, had an evident fondness for pictures of the French landscape as well as Parisian cityscapes.
Hazlitt’s became known for selling French art and works by the Barbizon school in particular, something that was underlined when 22 lots from his collection were offered at Sworders’ (25% buyer’s premium) Old Masters, British and European Art sale.
Sir Jack died in 2016 but the works offered at the Stansted Mountfitchet saleroom on September 27 were consigned by the family following the recent death of Lady Baer.
Along with pictures sold in Sworders’ Modern and Contemporary Art sale a week later and a small number of items at the Fine Interiors sale on September 13-14 (including a set of nine Florentine, pietra dura panels that made a stunning £130,000 – see Pick of the Week, ATG No 2560), the works had been removed from the couple’s house in Kensington, 9 Phillimore Terrace.
The property had been filled to the brim with furniture, works of art and pictures – the latter including many small-scaled paintings, drawings and prints in particular.
The lots met a good reaction with Sworders reporting bidding from his former clients, fellow dealers and even family members. Against attractive estimates, all 22 lots sold with all bar three lots going above predictions, raising a combined hammer total of £81,200.
“Generally I think people have been encouraged by the fact they are generally fresh to the market and from a good collection”, said Sworders’ head of paintings Jane Oakley.
“Sir Jack was a hugely respected figure in the art world which lent cachet to his property. The combination of his discerning eye, their freshness to the market and the impeccable provenance proved a winning formula and inspired buyers to dig deep.”
Nineteenth century French pictures, always a strength of Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, were clearly a favourite collecting category for the couple and the two top prices at the auction came for small landscapes by French artists.
Sir Jack Mervyn Frank Baer (1924-2016) is remembered as one of the leading picture dealers of his generation.
Born into a family of German Jewish émigrés, he was educated at Bryanston School in Dorset, where fellow pupils included a ‘rather frightening and sophisticated’ boy called Lucian Freud.
After later studying at the Slade and serving in the RAF during the Second World War, he had a brief apprenticeship with the Piccadilly-based art dealer Max de Beer. When this ended abruptly after de Beer was jailed for fraud, Baer decided to set up his own operation.
His decades-long relationship with the Hazlitt Gallery, a business dating back to 1752, began when he was asked to help in its closure after the owner, Hungarian dealer Max Hevesi, unexpectedly died in 1947. But it was instead agreed that Baer would take over the business and, after a series of successful exhibitions in the 1950s-60s focusing on French Barbizon School painters, as well as Italian Baroque and Rococo paintings, he greatly bolstered the reputation and influence of the gallery.
In one thrifty acquisition, he acquired a collection of 35 European paintings in New York in 1955 by then out-offavour artists such as Corot, Millet and Rousseau on the day that the Foreign Exchange Controls were removed, paying just £10,000 and then selling them for vastly greater sums in Hazlitt’s exhibitions.
In 1973, a merger created Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, followed by the opening of an affiliate gallery in New York. From 1977 to 1980, he was chairman of the Society of London Art Dealers and, as a member of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Chairman of the Acceptance in Lieu Panel, it was said he helped save around £150m of art for the nation. He received a knighthood in 1997.
In 1970, he married Diana (née Downes Baillieu), a watercolour artist, RADA trained actress and the daughter of the novelist Mollie Panter-Downs (1906-97). For 46 years the couple collected everything from 19th-century French drawings, folk art, contemporary ceramics, textiles, porcelain and decorative objects, many of them bought from local antiques dealers, shops and fairs.
In 1992, he stood down as managing director of Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox but remained as chairman until 2001.
Rousseau’s rolling hills
At Sworders, a Théodore Rousseau (1812-67) work on paper (pictured top) showing rolling hills in the countryside drew strong competition against a £1500-2000 estimate.
Simply titled Paysage, the 4¼ x 13in (11 x 33cm) oil on paper laid on board had previously been part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Following its deaccession it had featured in one of Baer’s early exhibitions of Barbizon School pictures at Hazlitt, held in the summer of 1956 (it also featured in another show at the gallery in 1961). In terms of its condition, it had a small abrasion to the upper right corner but no signs of significant damage or restoration were apparent.
Although the artist can make six-figure prices for larger canvases or panels, this small oil sketch was never likely to be in that category. But with some elegant handling and deft painterly touches, it found admirers that translated into active bidding on the day, sailing over the top estimate before being knocked down at £19,000. Acquired by a private London buyer on the phone, it fetched a good sum for such a diminutive work on paper by the artist.
In a similar vein, Roof Tops by Robert Léopold Leprince (1800- 47) was an elegantly conceived landscape by the artist who exhibited at the Paris Salon from 1822-44, receiving his first medal in 1824.
Signed and dated 1815 on the back, the 5 x 12¼in (12 x 31cm) oil on board was an earlier work made when the artist was just a teenager, showing his precocious talent and the rigorous academic training he received from his father, the painter and lithographer Anne-Pierre Leprince.
While the artist is probably less well known than his brother Auguste- Xavier Leprince (1799-1826), his views of the Italian Campagna and the forests around Fontainebleau do have appeal. This one was not only seemingly the earliest work to have emerged at auction but also had a more experimental composition with the chimneys prominent to the foreground.
The condition was good but not perfect with some varnish, surface dirt and scattered retouching to the sky. Estimated at £600-800, it drew an intense bidding battle before selling at £17,000 to the same London buyer who purchased the Rousseau.
Other than a view of the park around the Château de Neuilly which has twice sold for more (€80,000/£51,950 at Christie’s Paris in 2002 and for $75,000/£45,260 at Sotheby’s New York in 2014) this was the highest price at auction for the artist according to Artprice and suggested the ‘Baer factor’ may have helped push the price up.
Among the drawings and watercolours from the Baer collection generating interest was a scenic view towards the Le Pont des Arts in Paris by Henri-Joseph Harpignies (1819-1916). The 10¼ x 7in (26 x 18cm) watercolour was signed and dated 1882, and had been exhibited at the Sociétè d’Aquarellistes Français the year after it was executed.
Harpignies was a prolific artist and works on paper appear regularly on the market, making up to £17,000 for a view of Seine sold at Hartleys of Ilkley in 2007, down to around £300-500 for smaller and plainer examples. With a good subject and composition and attractive colouring, this one was probably more desirable than most. It was also in good condition with only a little surface dirt to the sky area as its only noticeable defect.
Estimated at £400-600, it sold at £4200 to a private buyer in France.
One of the drawings from the consignment also bringing bidding from across the Channel was a sketch of a girl sweeping by Jean-François Millet (1814-75). The 8¾ x 5in (22 x 12.5cm) pencil on paper was signed with the artist’s initials and pitched at £2000-3000.
Specialising in peasant subjects, any work by the artist, who was one of founders of the Barbizon school, is a valuable proposition – even a small, simple and rapid figurative sketch such as this. After a decent battle, it was knocked down at £7000 again to a private buyer in France.