Salem Revisited by Hywel Harries, £9000 at Rogers Jones.

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The spending power of well-heeled tourists as well as occasional purchases by one or two institutions have been among the factors driving demand for Welsh art over the last 25 years.

The rise of holiday homes and the surge in visitors to Cymru’s beauty spots have given prices a boost, especially for 20th century landscapes.

The dedicated Welsh sales held at Rogers Jones (24% buyer’s premium) are traditionally something of a bellwether event for the market. The latest, on April 27 in Cardiff, showed it to be in good health, especially for Modern and Contemporary pictures.

The total was just shy of £480,000 with a high 92% selling rate from around 450 lots of pictures, pottery and furniture.

Alongside “strong bidding from patriotic Welsh collectors around the UK, US and Europe,” the auction house welcomed institutional interest in the form of The National Library of Wales, based in Aberystwyth. It acquired five post-war pictures.

Vosper 'reimagined'

Its biggest purchase was a version of Salem by Hywel Harries (1921-90), a reworking of Sydney Curnow Vosper’s famous 1908 watercolour.

The library already owns Vosper’s second version of the picture, which it bought by private treaty through Rogers Jones in 2019 (it was due to appear at auction estimated at £40,000-60,000).

Vosper painted the iconic scene in the wake of the 1904-05 Welsh Revival. It shows Siân Owen in traditional Welsh costume arriving at her pew in Capel Salem, a Baptist chapel in Aberystwyth. Its fame was propelled through mass-circulated reproductions advertising Sunlight Soap.

Harries was himself a staunch chapelgoer and an elder at Capel Salem.

His 4ft 11in x 6ft 3in (59 x 75cm) oil on board (pictured above), titled Salem Revisited and dated 1973, was described in the catalogue as a “Cubist-cumpatchwork quilt oil painting”.

It deviates from the original in several ways, including the addition of the lettered names of Vosper’s models alongside each character. Vosper had recalled the names of his sixpence-an-hour models in 1938; among them a local carpenter, farmer, shopkeeper and a tailor’s dummy he named Leusa Jones.

The painting also features a demonic face, a nod to the popular belief that the devil lies in the detail of the folds of Siân Owen’s paisley shawl.

The picture formed part of the strong-selling collection of the late television producer, Pat Llewellyn (1962-2017), which was nearly a ‘white glove’ section with just one unsold lot from the 54 lots of Welsh pictures, samplers and furniture. Estimated at £3000-5000, the oil was knocked down to the library for £9000, a comfortable auction record for the artist.

Although Harries’ main focus was naturalistic paintings of Aberystwyth townscapes and the landscape of Ceredigion, his series of works on the Salem theme are clearly his most commercial. Two other versions sold at Rogers Jones in recent years: one in 2017 for £4400 and another in 2014 for £4600, the most expensive picture by the artist to sell at auction prior to the current sale.

Richards' steady rise


Figure at Piano by Ceri Richards, £7400 at Rogers Jones.

The library’s other significant purchase was a 1947 mixed-media work by Welsh modern artist Ceri Richards (1903-71). The painter is often described as Wales’ most important artist of the mid-20th century and interest in his work has steadily grown over the last few decades.

The 14 x 21in (36 x 54cm) work, depicting a woman seated at a piano, comes from his most commercial category of Surreal interior music scenes painted during the 1940s-50s. It was consigned from a private collection in Cardiff and sold to the library for a double-estimate £7400.

The remaining purchases were a pencil portrait of Evan Charlton (1913-200) by his daughter Felicity Charlton (1913-2009), an early 19th century self-portrait by Hugh Hughes (1790-1863), best known for his Welsh woodcuts, and another portrait depicting his 16-year-old son Thomas. Combined, they took the institution’s overall spend to nearly £22,000.

Elwyn fans


Welsh Landscape by John Elwyn, £12,500 at Rogers Jones.

The sale included an auction record for John Elwyn (1916- 97), whose brightly coloured, peaceful scenes inspired by the old farming landscape of his native south Cardiganshire attract a solid following.

The 20in (50cm) square oil on canvas, simply titled Welsh Landscape, was an especially bright example with a cottage framed between two trees and a vivid orange hill behind.

Also from the Pat Llewellyn consignment, it sold to a private collector in north Wales just over top estimate for £12,500. It broke Rogers Jones’ own record for a work by Elwyn, eclipsing the previous £11,000 high it achieved for It Does Not Always Rain in Dyfed.

Multiple bids emerged for an Aneurin Jones (1930-2017) oil depicting two cockle pickers with a donkey in the background, consigned from a collection in Derbyshire.

The coastal subject is unusual for the artist who tended to depict country markets, sheepdog trials and agricultural shows in west Wales. The 2ft x 20in (62 x 52cm) oil on board was secured by a private collector in Carmarthenshire bidding online for £6500, more than twice its top guide.

Classic later Kyffin


Ynys Môn by Kyffin Williams, £34,000 at Rogers Jones.

No Welsh sale at Rogers Jones is complete without works by Sir Kyffin Williams (1918-2006), the most important name in the modern Welsh art market. The performance of his pictures largely dictates the success of these sales, with over a quarter of the latest auction total (around £130,000) coming from some 35 examples.

The pick here was a 20in x 2ft 6in (50 x 75cm) view of Fedw Fawr on the east coast of Anglesey, dated 1989. It bore the hallmarks of a good, late work by Sir Kyffin with its thick impasto oil paint, limited palette and pared-back composition.

It was fresh to market, having come from a deceased estate in Pembrokeshire where it had resided since its purchase from the Thackeray Gallery in 1989 - the same year it was painted.

In ‘ready to hang’ condition, it drew multiple bids against a £18,000-25,000 estimate before eventually selling for £34,000 to an international interior design company for a London project. Still, it was some way off the artist’s record of £62,000 paid at Rogers Jones in 2021 for Ynys Mon, a larger oil from c.1982 depicting the village of Rhoscolyn in Anglesey.