Born into a wealthy family of German coffee merchants, she completed her studies at the Académie Julian in Paris and later under André Lhote where she adopted a distinctive cubist style.
Kean’s family did not encourage her painting career, and at their request her work was never commercially accredited.
Though the London gallery Whitford Fine Art brought her into the spotlight with two retrospective exhibitions in 1999 and in 2002, she remains little known with only around a dozen works recorded at auction.
The latest to come to light was a still life titled Nude and Jug consigned to a Modern Art and Design sale on December 7 at Mallams (25% buyer’s premium) in Oxford, estimated at £100-200.
Typical of her Cubist style, the undated 18 x 21½in (46 x 55cm) oil on canvas came in a large consignment of pictures from a deceased estate. It had minor paint loss but was otherwise in good condition.
With the market on the alert for undervalued women painters – particularly those operating in avant-garde Paris – it drew multiple bids before it was knocked down at £7600 via thesaleroom.com to a private UK buyer. According to artprice.com, the price is a new high for Kean at auction.
Also standing out in the Oxford sale was a still-life of flowers and pears by Cedric Morris (1889-1982).
As regular readers will know, works by the artist/ plantsman have become increasingly valuable on the back of several major London dealers championing his work in recent years.
The 18 x 16in (45 x 40cm) oil on board, signed and dated 1946 (the year he became one of the founders of Colchester Art Society), was in overall sound condition except for some visible vertical lines in the surface of the painting running down the grains of the board. It was also new to the market.
“It had only ever had one owner as the vendor knew Morris and did odd-jobs for him. They became friends and Morris gifted the painting to the vendor as a wedding present”, said Mallams picture specialist Max Fisher.
Estimated at £20,000-30,000, it drew bids from five phone lines before it was knocked down for £36,000 to a UK private buyer.
Two other Morris pictures – a landscape in oils of the Essex coast (1930) in need of a little restoration and a small silverpoint study of a cat (1924) – also sold for £7500 and £1700 respectively.