While the so-called middle market in many sectors of the art market has struggled over recent years, when it comes to Modern and Contemporary art it appears to be comparatively healthy.
The phrase ‘middle market’ means different things to different people, of course. Executives at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, for example, may define it as items making six-figure sums.
But sticking to a more widespread description of the category - pictures selling in the £2000-20,000 range - then plenty of works offered at auction this season have certainly indicated decent demand emerging for good-quality 20th century works.
Among recent examples were a number of notable consignments that came to North Yorkshire saleroom Tennants (24% buyer’s premium) on October 7.
These included a dream-like depiction of the Hambleton Hills in North Yorkshire by Richard Ernst Eurich (1903-92) that drew considerable interest at the Leyburn auction house’s latest Modern & Contemporary Art auction.
The 15¾ x 16¾in (40 x 50cm) oil on canvas depicted the Kilburn White Horse (a figure cut into the white limestone landscape in 1857). It was shown after the rain with a rainbow appearing to the middle right.
Signed and dated 1950, it was painted the year after Eurich had taken up a part-time teaching post at the Camberwell School of Art.
Prior to that the Bradford-born artist had studied at the Slade and was much influenced by Christopher Wood. He then became a noted war artist producing a series of powerful paintings - not least Withdrawal from Dunkirk, June 1940 which is now in the National Maritime Museum.
His works range from marine scenes and still-lifes to Stanley Spencer-esque figurative pictures, not to mention the semi-abstract landscapes and mysterious neo- Romantic portraits.
This varied output means his pictures tend to fetch a wide range of sums at auction with the highest being the £85,000 for the large-scale York Festival Triptych from 1956 that sold at Christie’s in 2014.
However, many lots make around £5000 or below and would classify as good examples of ‘middle market’ material. Indeed, a portrait was knocked down at £5000 exactly at Thomson Roddick this summer (see ATG No 2607).
Eurich’s 1950s pictures with wide views such as the current work are regarded as among the more commercial parts of his oeuvre.
Although this one had been unsold against a £4000-6000 estimate at Christie’s back in 1997, the market has expanded considerably over the intervening period. Appearing at Tennants with the same estimate, this time it sold at £15,000 to a UK private buyer.
The sum was seemingly the highest price for the artist at an auction outside London since a 1933 view of fishing boats at Whitby sold for £16,000 at Tennants in 2009.
A number of good results were also recorded for ‘middle market’ works by artists whose secondary market is still developing.
Not afraid of de Wolf
Three still-lifes by Tony de Wolf (b.1961) all drew interest in Leyburn despite the fact that few works by the Belgian artist have ever appeared in the saleroom (Artprice.com only records 13 auction results in total).
De Wolf’s pictures are essentially a modern take on Dutch Golden Age painting and he built a following well beyond his homeland, mainly on the primary market. The trio of works here had been acquired through Harrogate dealer Walker Galleries and were fairly typical examples of his controlled compositions created with layers of thinly applied oil paint.
First to be offered was a painting of a Chinese vase and silver bowl with two mandarins which overshot a £600-900 estimate and made
The third work was the largest and most striking: a still-life of a cheese board and a glass of red wine. The 11½ x 23¼in (30 x 59cm) signed oil on canvas was estimated at £1000-1500 but took £5500 from a private north of England buyer. It was the third highest sum for de Wolf at auction.
Dedicated to Booth
Rich and highly detailed still-lifes were also a speciality of the English artist Raymond Booth (1929-2015). Based in Leeds for much of his career, he focused in particular on botanical and wildlife pictures, subjects which provided the highest prices among a group of works offered at Tennants.
The 90 lots came from Booth’s studio and were part of his estate when he died. Offered in a separate dedicated sale also on October 7, all of them sold for a combined hammer total of just over £100,000. The auction house reported that 41 buyers made a purchase, a sign of the depth of interest in Booth and showing how he is another artist with a developing secondary market.
Leading the selection at Tennants was A Shelf of Plants, an oil on board from 1989 which overshot a £1500- 2500 estimate and sold at £9500 to a private London buyer.
Not far behind was A Branch of Apples, a 23½ x 18¼in (60 x 47cm) pencil and oil on paper. With the artist rarely painting anything that he had not observed through at least one growing cycle, it was among the works that featured in a solo show held at the Garden Museum in London in 2021-22. Estimated at £1200-1800, it made £8500 from a private UK buyer.
Apart from a few animal pictures that have fetched more in US sales, these were the highest sums recorded for plant studies by Booth at auction according to Artprice.com.
Tennants will offer a further small selection of works from Booth’s studio in March.
Another separate single-owner sale held on the same day at Tennants comprised a group of 193 lots from the collection of the late Michael Raw. A writer for the Cambridge Footlights and Not the Nine O’Clock News in his youth, he also played rugby for Harlequins before dedicating his life to teaching, becoming a history teacher at Sedbergh School in Cumbria.
The auction of the works at Tennants was dubbed The Harlequin Sale due to Raw’s keen eye for colour and design. With all the lots selling, the hammer total was £169,290 with a top price of £7500 coming for an abstract by Canadian artist William Perehudoff (1918-2013).
Born in a remote farming community in Saskatchewan, Perehudoff was best known for his paintings with varying planes of colour and this 5ft 3in x 4ft 2in (1.61 x 1.26m) signed acrylic on canvas from 1991 was a typical example. The estimate was £3000-5000 and after a decent competition it sold to a private international buyer.
The collection also included a good selection of modern sculpture. Among the lots in this section was a small bronze titled Sailboat by St Ives School artist Breon O’Casey (1928-2011).
Part of a signed edition of nine and measuring 11¾in (30cm) high, it was estimated at £2000-3000 and was seemingly the first time an example from the edition had come to auction.
On the day, a decent bidding battle emerged and it sold at £5000 to a private UK buyer. While the artist’s larger animal-themed sculptures have sold for a good deal more, this was a notable sum for a smaller work and again a sign of the interest that can emerge for good quality works in the middle-market price range.