William Nicholson still-life

Mixed Flowers in a Black Jug by Sir William Nicholson, £160,000 at Olympia Auctions.

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The 2ft 6in x 2ft 1in (76 x 63.5cm) oil on canvas had strong appeal on a variety of counts. It dated from c.1912 and depicted a striking array of summer flowers including nicotiana, zinnias, Sweet William and cornflowers.

The plants may well have come from the artist’s garden in Rottingdean, East Sussex, although Nicholson was also known to choose flowers from his sitter’s gardens when engaged on a portrait commission. They were shown here standing in a 19th century Jackfield jug – a distinctive piece of pottery made from mixing manganese with a dark firing clay in the Ironbridge-Coalbrookedale area of Shropshire (the Jackfield factory is now better known for its glazed and painted tiles).

The painting was deemed an assured and arresting composition with the varied combination of textures and tones set against a dark background and a piece of silver-grey silk to the right.

Appealing provenance

It came with an appealing ownership history, having been first recorded in the collection of Scottish Liberal MP and prominent businessman Sir James Murray (1850-1933). Murray owned at least one other Nicholson still-life – one of the artist’s largest examples titled The Brown Crow which dated from 1917 and also, perhaps coincidentally, included a black Jackfield jug.

The current lot had changed hands a number of times since Christie’s dispersed Murray’s collection in 1927, and it last appeared at auction in 1976, again at Christie’s.

At Olympia on December 13 it was estimated at £60,000-80,000 and after a battle between trade and private collectors in the room, on the phones and online, it was eventually knocked down at £160,000 to a private London buyer.