A servant on the steps of a Balinese temple, a watercolour and bodycolour by Marius Bauer, £17,000 at Sworders.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

The market for works on paper might have become more selective since the heady days of the 1970s-80s but plenty of dealers and collectors are, nevertheless, still keenly seeking out rare and quality works in this area.

Fortunately, such material tends to still emerge relatively often at auction.

In the last 10 years the commercial gulf between what is deemed the best and the rest has widened. This may reflect a lower number of buyers and a ‘flock to quality’ among the remaining collectors. Another factor seemingly playing an increasingly prominent role has been the effect of online catalogues and the growth of internet bidding in raising the potential of certain works to fly over estimate.

Demonstrating this, among the works on paper bringing strong competition across the country of late were some appealing examples of both British and European pictures ranging from Old Master sketches to 20th century cityscapes. A couple came at Sworders(25% buyer’s premium) Old Master, British and European Art auction in Stansted Mountfitchet on September 26.

Rapid and sketchy style

A depiction of a servant on the steps of a Balinese temple made one of the highest prices in the last 10 years for a watercolour by leading Dutch Orientalist Marius Bauer (1867-1932). It was an example showing his rapid, sketchy technique that became much admired in Britain as well as his homeland where he was created a Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau.

The 2ft 5in x 20½in (74 x 52cm) signed watercolour and bodycolour had a label on the back for EJ van Wisselingh & Co, the Amsterdam dealer which sold many of his works and funded his trips. Bauer travelled widely throughout his career, first visiting Istanbul in 1886 before heading further afield to Egypt, Palestine, India as well as making various expeditions across Europe.

He visited the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali in 1925 and returned in 1931 where he produced some of his most popular works, among them an oil painting of Balinese women with temple offerings that made €35,000 (£30,235) at Christie’s Amsterdam in 2009.

The output of his oil paintings, watercolours and prints was prolific and this is something that allows today’s buyers to be picky as works regularly come up for sale. The example in Essex, however, was rated above the usual fare given its subject with a single Balinese figure and its good size and condition (it had no obvious defects and was ready to hang).

While the £2000-3000 estimate perhaps reflected the average price-range for typical Bauer watercolours, here five phone lines were booked from the Netherlands and it was carried well above this level. It was eventually knocked down at £17,000 to a Dutch buyer who left an absentee commission bid.

According to, the sum was the highest for any work by Bauer sold at a UK auction outside London and the highest for a watercolour since Christie’s Amsterdam sold Minarets for €50,000 (£41,905) back in 2013 - still the overall record for Bauer.

Owned by Lely


Madonna and Child with The Infant St John and angels, catalogued as ‘circle of Girolamo Genga’, £7000 at Sworders.

Strong international interest at Sworders also came for an intriguing 16th century Italian drawing depicting the Madonna and Child with the infant St John and angels.

A label that accompanied the picture implied the unframed 10 x 7¼in (26 x 19cm) pen and brown ink sketch had once been attributed to Girolamo Genga (c.1476-1551) and had been part of court painter Sir Peter Lely’s famous collection of prints and drawings.

The drawing had sold at Sotheby’s back in 1964 where it was purchased by the English Catholic priest Bryan Houghton. The condition was certainly respectable for a work of its age despite some time staining and a few marks and scuffs.

Catalogued as ‘circle of Girolamo Genga’ and offered as the first lot of the sale, it was estimated at £1000-1500 and drew a flurry of bids with interested parties online and on the phone as well as at least one strong commission bid. With bidders from China, Israel and Continental Europe, it was eventually knocked down at £7000 to a French buyer.

Turner at sea


Brighton fishing vessel at sea by JMW Turner, £32,000 at Woolley & Wallis.

A number of British works on paper were among the lots receiving attention at Woolley & Wallis(26% buyer’s premium) picture sale in Salisbury on September 5-6, including a few by major names.

From the collection of a former museum keeper who bought from the 1930s-70s was a small watercolour by JMW Turner (1775-1851) of a fishing boat at sea. Measuring 5¼ x 8¼in (14 x 21cm), it was part of a series of coastal scenes executed by the artist in watercolour and white bodycolour and dating from c.1798.

The majority of the series were part of the Turner Bequest and are now held by Tate Britian, including one which appears to show the same boat depicted here and which is inscribed BRI…TON, presumably indicating the group were made during a visit to Brighton.

A later inscription on the back of the current work stated that Turner made the picture while giving a lesson to William Blake of Newhouse, a pupil of the artist in whose family it had been for many years up until 1962.

Having featured in a 1974-75 exhibition of Turner’s work at Tate Britian and the Royal Academy, the £3000-5000 estimate looked somewhat undercooked for an artist of Turner’s stature, even if the style and subject were slightly different to what Turner followers normally look for. Duly attracting plenty of interest, it drew bidding from both trade and private buyers in the UK and US. It was knocked down at £32,000 to a UK buyer.


The Grey Castle by JMW Turner, £19,000 at Woolley & Wallis.

From a separate source, another diminutive Turner watercolour with an appealing provenance was a 6 x 9in (15 x 23cm) pencil and watercolour study of the castle of Beilstein in Germany. Better known today as Metternich Castle, the hilltop ruins overlooking the Moselle river formed the basis of a number of Turner’s works as he travelled to Europe at different points in his career.

The sketch, titled The Grey Castle, had once belonged to the artist and critic John Ruskin no less. Having been purchased by a member of the Wiltshire vendor’s family back in 1966, it was appearing on the market for the first time in almost six decades. While the subject here was more Turner-esque, the picture looked slightly faint and seemed to lack the sensational colouring of some of the artist’s other castle scenes, including a later view of the same subject that was part of the Turner Bequest and now in the Tate.

Estimated at £5000-8000, again an attractive pitch, it drew competition and sold at £19,000 to the UK trade.

Tiny Constable


The Keep, Colchester Castle, from the North East by John Constable, £16,500 at Woolley & Wallis.

An even smaller pencil sketch by Turner’s fellow Romanticist, John Constable (1776-1837), came to the Salisbury sale from the same source.

The 3¾ x 4½in (9 x 12cm) drawing depicting the keep at Colchester Castle was closely related to a sketch of the same subject in the artist’s 1813 sketchbook, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Thought to have been executed at around the same time (or perhaps the following year), the fact that the sheet was slightly larger than the sheets of the V&A’s sketchbook, indicated that either it was a one-off drawing on a loose sheet, or that that it was originally part of a different sketchbook.

Estimated at £3000-5000, it drew four phone bidders and sold at £16,500 to a private collector of British pictures.