The late George Bellamy (1944-2023) spent over 40 years putting together his prized collection of Wemyss ware, the Scottish pottery started in Kirkcaldy, Fife, by Robert Methven Heron in 1882.
Bellamy focused on the first Scottish period of production before the pottery moved south to Bovey Tracey in Devon in 1930.
He studied assiduously, building up knowledge on the work and styles of the different artists employed (all Wemyss was hand decorated so it was always costly to produce and never a cheap purchase).
Testimony to his efforts and the quality of his collection is that the Antique Collectors’ Club published it in 2019 as a monograph, Scottish Wemyss Ware 1882-1930: The George Bellamy Collection.
Bellamy was fascinated by flora and fauna from an early age and this was reflected in his Wemyss choices. Alongside the familiar and long collected signature pieces – wide eyed cats and shamrock and cabbage rose emblazoned pigs – were pieces decorated with floral specimens executed in a detailed naturalistic style.
Buying from dealers, collectors and auctions, as well as focusing on the Scottish era of Wemyss he also looked for quality of painting and good condition in those purchases.
All gone eventually
On January 24 Lyon &Turnbull (26/25/20% buyer’s premium) offered his collection for sale in its Edinburgh rooms where 160 lots went under the hammer.
Virtually all sold at the auction to total just over £221,000, the remainder finding buyers shortly after to make it a sell-out event.
And there were also some very high individual prices.
Overall, the sale offered buyers wares at a wide range of price points from rarities and sought after models to more representational pieces guided at a few hundred pounds, some of which are also pictured here alongside the sale’s best-sellers.
The auction record for Wemyss ware was set back in 2004 when two models of sleeping pigs were both sold by Sotheby’s for £29,000 apiece.
At the Bellamy auction it was cats that reigned. Four Wemyss smiling felines featured in the sale ranging in size from 12½in (31.5cm) to 13in (33cm) in height and they occupied the first, second, fourth and fifth positions in the price list.
All are very similar in shape to the Gallé faience cats made around the same period in France and, like them, feature applied glass eyes.
Topping the bill was a 12in (32.5cm) high naturalistically decorated tabby covered in detail in News, ATG No 2628, which realised £18,000. It had an impressed maker’s mark WEMYSS and a printed retailer’s mark for Thomas Goode & Co in London which was the pottery’s sole agent. Two other naturalistically decorated examples – a marmalade tabby and a black and white cat – realised £11,000 and £10,000, while a cat painted with thistles made £13,000.
The third-highest price of the auction was not an animal, however, but a large example of Wemyss naturalistic flower painting.
The 21½in (53cm) high baluster vase was painted by Wemyss’ top decorator, the Bohemian-born Karel Nekola, with an abundance of hollyhocks and bees.
The vase was a one-off. It was made for the Wemyss family of Wemyss Castle near Kirkcaldy (who were the pottery’s early and major patrons) and was created for presentation to Robert and Gertrude Wemyss Honeyman on the occasion of their wedding in October 1915.
A tour de force of ceramic decoration, it was painted towards the end of Nekola’s life as he died in November 1915.
Estimated at £5000-8000, it ended up selling for £12,000.
There was a wide botanical array in the sale with decoration ranging from garden blooms to wild flowers.
In the latter camp, and one of the largest pieces made at the Fife pottery, was a Wildflowers garden seat standing 18in (46cm) high. It was of barrel shape (a form popular in Victorian times, especially in majolica for use in conservatories) and was finely painted with specimens of foxglove, ragwort, hawthorn, chicory and other wild flowers.
It also bore a painter’s mark and was impressed Wemyss Ware Fife Pottery R Heron.
The seat was formerly in the well-known Wemyss collection formed by Iris Fox sold by Sotheby’s in 1994 and had featured in the Wemyss ware Rogers de Rin exhibition at Sotheby’s in 1987. At Lyon & Turnbull it sold for £8000.
Another large floral piece finely painted by Nekola was a mixed flowers ewer and 15¼in (39cm) diameter basin decorated with a profusion of specimens including pheasant’s eye narcissi, tulips, roses, poppies, chrysanthemums, escallonia, and purple sweet peas. This sold for £4000 against a guide of £1000-1500.
A 16in (40.5cm) vase in the shape of the fleur de lys decorated with sprays of lily of the valley was a rare creation, the only Wemyss shape decorated with this flower. The rarity was acknowledged in the final price of £3400 against a £1500-2000 guide.
As well as feline subjects, the animals represented in the Bellamy collection comprised a wide-ranging Wemyss menagerie. This included pigs, deer, sheep, rabbits, foxes and cows along with a variety of avian specimens from chickens and pheasants to wild birds.
The most expensive of these were two of the pig models, each seated specimens of large size at 17¾in (45cm), one painted with roses, thistle and shamrock which realised £4200 and the other painted by Nekola with cabbage roses which sold for £3000.
Also making £3000 and at the other end of the size scale were a set of four circular buttons, 1¼in (3.3cm) diameter, each painted with a fox’s mask.