Following a now well-established and profitable theme in the market, female artists lead the way in a clutch of Modern British exhibitions taking place this spring.
Among the notable names is Evelyn Dunbar (1906-60), whose work is showcased by online dealership Modern British Art Gallery. The firm is a sister business to Liss Llewellyn, long a promoter of Britain’s 20th century women artists.
The current programme comprises 11 weekly ‘shows’ on Dunbar, who was a painter, illustrator and official war artist. The shows are divided into themes such as Wartime Works, Studies for Major Paintings and Figure Studies & Nudes. The pictures are offered studio fresh with prices ranging from £100-5000.
‘Twice in a lifetime’
Modern British Art Gallery dubs it a ‘twice in a lifetime opportunity’ since this is the second major discovery of Dunbar’s works offered in the past 10 years.
In 2015 a group of previously unrecorded pictures by the artist found in an attic in a Kent house were exhibited in a show arranged by Liss Llewellyn at Pallant House, Chichester. Five years later, during a mid-lockdown shed clear-out, an extra 200 works on paper were uncovered in an outbuilding (at the same Kent property).
Some from this group have already sold, including a series of sketchbooks, which Oxford Brookes University bought, adding to its significant collection of Dunbar’s work. The remaining ones are featured in the digital exhibitions.
Despite the artist being well known in her day, Anton Liss, who runs Modern British Art Gallery, says that Dunbar has returned to prominence only recently.
Interest from art historians and the possibility of a more formal programme of study on the artist planned by Oxford Brookes have bolstered her resurgence, he suggests.
Liss adds: “The market has evolved alongside this with demand for Dunbar’s all too rare paintings which has become increasingly strong alongside the market for remarkably good value works on paper. Substantial examples of these works can still be acquired for prices in the mid hundreds thanks to the chance discovery of this recent hoard discovered in an outbuilding a few years after the first collection discovered in an attic.”
Prices are likely to rise, he predicts, “especially with the phenomenal growth of interest in the work of woman artists, which in the case of Evelyn Dunbar you would consider to be entirely sustainable and justified”.
Having a tranche of market-fresh works by a reclaimed female artist is an enviable position. Private collectors and major institutions alike are adding rapidly to their stores of these figures, as highlighted in a special report by ATG last winter (No 2573).
At the time, dealer Philip Mould told ATG that the key was to find “women artists of great talent who are going up in value”, citing Jessica Dismorr (1885-1939) and Nina Hamnett as examples (1890-1956) in the Mod Brit arena.
This formula might apply also to Cicely Hey (1896-1980), who is in the spotlight at The Court Gallery in Somerset (show runs until June 15).
Hey is perhaps best known for her work as a model for Walter Sickert (1860-1942), and was married to Robert Tatlock, editor of The Burlington Magazine and art editor of The Daily Telegraph.
These relationships, especially with Sickert, have sometimes overshadowed the fact that she was a highly trained and well-respected artist. Born in Oxfordshire, she studied at Brussels School of Art, Central School of Arts and Crafts and the Slade. Hey exhibited in London during the 1920s-30s, received positive reviews in the national press, and was a member of The London Group until her death.
A number of her works are held in national museums and other institutions, but the show in question is based on a recently rediscovered collection of paintings, drawings, watercolours and prints.
Prices range from £250-3750.
St Ives influences
In Cornwall, Belgrave St Ives holds an exhibition of prints by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912- 2004) from May 26-June 26.
Barns-Graham has recently been the subject of Paths to Abstraction at Hatton Gallery, Newcastle, which closes this week, and is one of the best-known women of the St Ives movement.
The show additionally features the prints of Bob Crossley, her exact contemporary, also associated with St Ives and the Penwith Society of Arts.
In its April report on the Modern British art market, Portland Gallery of St James’s, London, noted the strength in demand for female artists, listing several with recent strong results at auction such as Vanessa Bell, Jessica Dismorr and Edith Rimmington.
The report said: “Across all houses, Mary Fedden performed consistently with encouraging results illustrating wide interest and demand. Portland Gallery actively took part in bidding for a number of these works, although prices rose above expected top estimates.”
The gallery was among those commenting on the strength of the market for Fedden (1915-2012) at last year’s Modern British Art Fair (ATG No 2565) and held an exhibition on the perennial favourite last year.
There are more Feddens to be found at the Spring into Summer 2023 exhibition at Clark Art in Cheshire. The show runs until August 24 and, though it includes a range of artists, highlights the work of women including Helen Bradley (1900-79) and Tessa Newcomb (b.1955).