Appearing at Mellors & Kirk (24% buyer's premium) in Nottingham on February 16 was a copy of Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson’s (1889-1946) most famous work Returning to the Trenches.
The image of French territorial infantry soldiers, formed as a column of cubistic figures to portray them simply as cogs in the war machine, was conceived in 1914-15 and exists in a number of forms – as a painting, as drawings, as a woodcut that appeared in the second issue of Blast magazine, and also as a drypoint.
The latter was published in 1916 in an edition of probably 75. As a depiction of modern warfare, it was far removed from the tradition of glorified war art.
Nevinson had joined an ambulance unit at the outbreak of the First World War and was deeply disturbed as he helped treat wounded French and British soldiers.
He said: “My attempt at creating beauty was merely by the statement of reality, emotionally expressed as one who had seen something of warfare and was caught up in a force over which he had no control.”
Copies of the drypoint have sold for as much as £60,000 at Bonhams in 2014, although recently another offered at Christie’s as part of a sale of property from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in November 2021 made $28,000 (£23,760).
This particular impression was not in the best condition, however.
Unframed and not laid down, the sheet was now an irregular size and slightly stained.
Despite that, it was signed and dated CRW Nevinson 1916 in pencil and its appearance would be improved with a professional clean.
Guided at £2000-3000, it took £8000, showing the value of keeping a lid on estimates given condition problems.
Nash among giants
Meanwhile, at Reeman Dansie (22.5% buyer’s premium) in Colchester on February 14, a copy of the Paul Nash (1889-1946) print Avebury, Landscape of the Megaliths from 1937 was offered with a £2000-3000 estimate.
The 20in x 2ft 6in (51 x 76cm) signed lithograph was one a number of paintings, drawings and prints that the artist made of the site, the largest prehistoric stone circle in Europe, after he first came across the megaliths while recuperating in Wiltshire from a nasty bout of bronchitis in the summer of 1933.
The scene depicted here was based on the landscape where stones form part of an avenue that leads to the henge.
The print’s condition was not ideal: it had been trimmed and stuck down on board and had some staining and a degree of slight fading. Nevertheless, the print had a commercial subject and interest in Nash remains strong.
It sold at £3600 to a private buyer from East Anglia, a decent sum given that another copy (with an dedication reading: Nancy with Paul’s Love) made £3300 in the same rooms in 2019.
Another work on paper by a major name in the Modern British art market that sold above estimate in Colchester was a pencil sketch by Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970).
It was one of five drawings by Knight at the sale that came from the family of artist Gerald Spencer Pryse (1882-1956). Reeman Dansie had sold a collection of his own work back in August (see ATG No 2563).
Spencer Pryse’s wife, Muriel Anstace Spencer Pryse (née Theodora) was gallery manager of Upper Grosvenor Galleries and arranged a selling exhibition of Knight’s work in 1963.
The sketches here were all seemingly rapidly executed studies and, on the day, they all got away for a combined £4170. While four sold within estimate, the example that surpassed predictions was a landscape with haystacks that measured 10 x 15in (26 x 38cm) and was signed with the artist’s initials.
Although unframed, it was in generally decent condition despite some old adhesive tape under the mount and a slight crease in the right lower corner. Estimated at £600-900, it sold at £2150.
The next highest price among the group came for a charcoal on paper study of a group of figures. Again unframed, it sold at £760.
The two drawings sold separately, although both went to local female private buyers.