The sketches by James Atkinson (1780-1852) emerged at Trevanion (22% buyer’s premium) in Whitchurch, Shropshire, on February 15.
Atkinson was a surgeon, soldier, journalist and artist who had taken drawing lessons from George Chinnery after meeting him at Dhaka in 1805 (he initially practised his craft by making copies after Chinnery’s works).
The pictures in Shropshire were part of a rare group that relate to the 1842 publication Sketches in Afghaunistan published by Henry Graves & Company.
The book comprised 25 tinted lithographs, all after Atkinson’s originals, and provided a dramatic visual record of a country which had become a source of fascination in Britain in part due to the first Anglo-Afghan war of 1839-42, one of the most disastrous and bloody campaigns in British military history.
Atkinson had served as surgeon to the 55th Native Infantry in Kabul between 1838-41. As well as sketching, he also kept a journal which was published under the title The Expedition into Afghaunistan in the same year as Sketches in Afghaunistan.
Three of the works at Trevanion were preparatory studies for the lithographs contained in Sketches.... Recording local scenery and customs, they may well have been made on the spot.
One was a scene on the River Sufledge near Paukputten (it appeared as plate 1 in the book), another was a view of the Mountain Baba Naunee (plate 4) and the third showed The Avenue at Baber’s Tomb (plate 23). The fourth watercolour in the group depicted the bridge and river at Caubel but did not appear in the final published edition.
What happened to the other original watercolours that did appear as plates in the book? Of the original set of 25, 16 were presented to the India Office Library by the artist’s son in 1910. The others appear to have become dispersed so the emergence of these three at Trevanion was a notable event.
In terms of the artist’s current market, lithographs of Atkinson’s sketches come up occasionally at auction (many copies of the plate book have been broken up over the years), but original works by Atkinson are rare.
Before this sale, the two highest recorded results for the artist were a collection of 21 watercolours that he made en route to Afghanistan that sold at Christie’s back in 1997 for £6000, and an oil painting depicting Charakpuja (the Hindu hook-swinging festival) that made £4000 at Bonhams in 2006.
Here the watercolours were offered as a single lot and the estimate was set at £1000- 1500, a level that clearly enticed a number of bidders. After a good competition, the gavel eventually fell at £4600.
Although the sum represents the second-highest auction sum for Atkinson, these watercolours could well prove to be a bargain given their vibrancy as well as topographical and historical interest.
Another of the four watercolours by James Atkinson that sold together for £4600 at Trevanion.
Great Exhibition watercolour
Another watercolour by a British artist that was made into a print surfaced at Martel Maides (20% buyer’s premium) in Guernsey on February 23.
The depiction of the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 by Charles Frederick Buckley (1812-69) was the original watercolour for the famous print published by George Baxter.
The print was released only five days after the exhibition at the Crystal Palace (then situated in Hyde Park) was opened by Queen Victoria on May 1, 1851, meaning Buckley must have executed the watercolour before the actual opening day.
The print was sold on Baxter’s own stall at the Great Exhibition and it was awarded an Honourable Mention.
The view shows the south and east sides of Joseph Paxton’s giant cast-iron and glass complex but the watercolour differs from Baxter’s print in a number of ways: some figures have been removed or replaced and notably the Union Jack flying on the building in the watercolour was not included in the print.
As well as the 1851 print, Baxter produced a further nine prints in 1854 entitled Gems of the Great Exhibition which included another edition of the present view.
Here the pencil, grey ink and watercolour with gum arabic, heightened with touches of bodycolour measured 10 x 21¾in (25 x 55cm) and was indistinctly signed to the lower right.
Housed in a modern English hollow frame, it had some minor spotting to the sky in places and one or two very small areas of suspected professional retouching.
The picture was not totally fresh to the market, however.
It had previously sold at Sotheby’s in 2000 for £19,000 and then again at Christie’s in 2004 for a below-estimate £12,000. It had then been unsold against a £15,000-20,000 pitch at a Martel Maides online-only sale in June last year.
Here it had a lower estimate of £12,000-15,000 and it got away at £10,000. The sum fetched, though, was above any other work by Buckley – only the previous results at Sotheby’s and Christie’s were higher in terms of auction prices for the artist.