Portrait of Paddy Goodman Vine by Hedwig Pillitz, £4200 at Olympia Auctions.

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Only a handful of works by the Hampstead-born painter, whose parents were Hungarian emigrés, had ever emerged at auction and most of those had made sums under £500.

Back in October, however, a group of nine works from Pillitz’ estate drew interest at Olympia Auctions (25% buyer’s premium), selling to eight different UK buyers for a combined £7100. More recently the same source provided another tranche of 11 lots to the west London saleroom on March 15 which again caused a stir.

With all of them selling above top estimate to six different buyers, they raised a combined £14,280.

One buyer, dealer Florence Evans, secured six of the works including all those making the top-four prices.

Bidding on the portraits she believed were the most attractive of the group, she said: “They are real period pieces. The portrait of the redhead has all the appeal of a Pre-Raphaelite portrait, in a 1930s time machine.”

The work in question was a portrait of Paddy Goodman Vine, a striking sitter who was also the subject of another portrait sold for £650 at the October sale. This 2ft x 20in (61 x 51cm) signed oil on canvas was estimated at £200-300 and drew the strongest competition of the group, selling at £4200 to Evans and setting a new auction high for the artist.

The previous record was £3200 for a portrait of an artist holding a palette that sold at Christie’s Jasper Conran sale in 2021.

Cultured upbringing

Not too much is known about Pillitz’ life and work, although had she is thought to have had a cultured upbringing as many of her known portraits depicted actors, musicians and writers.

“We only know the basics,” said Evans, “but I’ve established that she exhibited a few times at the Royal Academy in their Summer Exhibitions between 1924-40, at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and at The Rowley Gallery in Kensington Church Street. “She clearly moved in rather interesting artistic circles. There’s a story there, waiting to be found.”


Portrait of Barbara Comyns by Hedwig Pillitz, £1800 at Olympia Auctions.

Another of the works purchased by Evans depicted the painter and writer Barbara Comyns (1907-92), about whom a biography has just been published by Avril Horner (titled Barbara Comyns: A Savage Innocence).

Comyns was part of the London Group alongside her first husband John Pemberton and was acquainted with Augustus John and Dylan Thomas.

She later became a cook at a country house in Hertfordshire and began to write a series of vignettes about her childhood.

Encouraged by Grahame Greene, she then produced a string of successful novels, including The Vet’s Daughter from 1959 which brought her a good deal of recognition.

Estimated at £300-500, the painting again drew demand with Evans having to go to £1800 to secure the 2ft 9in x 2ft 2in (84 x 66cm) oil on canvas.


Portrait of a woman identified as the Chinese dancer Dai Ai-lien by Hedwig Pillitz, £750 at Olympia Auctions.

Another portrait with an intriguing sitter, albeit one that made a lesser sum, was a 19¾ x 15¾in (51 x 40cm) signed oil on canvas of a woman wearing a floral dress.

Evans, who bought it at £750 against a £200-300 estimate, has identified the sitter as the Chinese dancer Dai Ai-lien and the work as one exhibited by Pillitz at the RA in 1940 (it was seemingly painted a year or two earlier before the sitter moved from London to Hong Kong).

Dai Ai-lien is regarded as the ‘Mother of Chinese Modern Dance’. Evans said she regarded it as the most striking painting of the group and would have kept bidding further if required.

She is now having the works framed and will show them on her stand at the next Decorative Fair in Battersea which runs from May 7-12.