Melancolie by Eugène Berman, £19,000 at Sworders.

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Indeed, pictures certainly played their part at Sworders (25% buyer’s premium) sale of contents from the flat in London’s Barons Court that he shared with partner Jackie Mann, who died last year.

The 24 lots of paintings and drawings offered at the auction on January 25 demonstrated his eclectic taste, spanning many periods and styles. They contributed £69,770 to the overall hammer total of £406,000 from 267 lots.

The auction itself followed two previous sales of Turpin’s collection held at Christie’s after he died in 2005. The latest event in Stansted Mountfitchet was a white-glove sale with most lots offered having generally modest estimates (see report in ATG No 2631).

Private and trade bidders

When it came to the pictures, the collection in Essex drew a combination of private and trade interest which, according to the auction house, came from local, national and international bidders due to the variety of subjects on offer.

Sworders’ head of pictures Amy Scanlon said: “Dick Turpin had eclectic taste, juxtaposing the early Dutch works alongside later genres. I think being able to buy into someone else’s collecting style really helps draw interest and gained some great results for the sale.”

The fact that the estimates were set at such attractive levels may have also led some bidders to believe they could secure a bargain.

The top picture was a painting by Eugène Berman (1899-1972) titled Melancolie. It was part of a series of works by the Russian-born painter and stage designer depicting enigmatic, isolated figures, set against a backdrop of bleakness and decay. Signed and dated 1936, the 18 x 15in (46 x 38cm) oil on canvas had previously been owned by English poet and collector Edward James, whose collection was sold at Sotheby’s two years after he died in 1986.

Berman had fled Russia in 1918 shortly after the Revolution and settled in Paris. He then moved to the US in 1935 and became an American citizen in 1937. The current work carried an inscription on the back denoting that it was painted in New York between July 1936 and January 1937.

The artist worked in New York mainly as a designer for ballet and opera but continued to produce dreamlike and sorrowful canvases such as this example (he had been part of the ‘Neo-Romantics’ group in Paris that included other Russian emigrés such as his brother Léonid and Pavel Tchelitchew, whose works focused on melancholy and exile).

This picture at Sworders was earlier than most that emerge, although a slightly larger painting from the same year and with the same title sold at Sotheby’s for £6500 back in 1995 at the sale of the collection of French illustrator Pierre Le-Tan. Prices for Berman have moved on since then but the auction record still stands for a work on a much larger scale from 1944 titled La danse muette that sold at Christie’s for £52,000 back in 1990.

At the Turpin sale, the estimate on Melancolie of £2000-3000 was deemed highly restrained even though the picture surface had some craquelure starting to emerge in places and some small areas of retouching. It brought a strong battle between a number of international bidders and was knocked down at £19,000 to a Parisian dealer, the seventh-highest price at auction for the artist, according to Artprice. com, but by far the best at a UK sale outside London.

Elegant scenes


The Song of the Fountain by Emma Ciardi, £3500 at Sworders.

Among other 20th century works drawing interest was an attractively bright and airy scene by Italian painter Emma Ciardi (1879-1933).

The artist made her name painting genre scenes featuring elegantly dressed figures in 18th century costume, although her most commercial works at auction remain bright views of her home city of Venice. The record for the artist stands at £45,000 for a painting of a grand fête on the Grand Canal sold at Christie’s London in 2003.

The 2ft 4in x 22in (72 x 56cm) signed oil on canvas here was inscribed and dated Venezia/1912, and it had the remnants of a label for London dealer Leicester Galleries with the date of 1913.

The estimate of £1500-2000 again proved a significant draw as plenty of the artist’s works have fetched sums beyond this level. It sold to a dealer in Venice at £3500 - a sum that looked decent value for a work of this size and subject by Ciardi.


Portrait of a young man catalogued as ‘after Cesare Dandini’, £7500 at Sworders.

A few of the Old Masters in the Turpin collection also caught the attention of bidders. One was an arresting head and shoulders of a young man wearing a beret, blue tunic and white lace ruff. The 20 x 15¾in (51 x 40cm) oval oil on canvas was catalogued as ‘after Cesare Dandini (1596-1657)’ - the Italian Baroque painter who worked for a number of leading Florentine patrons, including Lorenzo de’ Medici.

The sitter here features in a number of Dandini’s paintings (often shown in similar attire) and has been identified as Bartolomeo Landini, a musician at the court of the grand dukes of Tuscany.

A slightly larger version of the subject, which was fully attributed to Dandini, sold at €149,100 (£121,015) at Dorotheum of Vienna in 2012.

While the current picture was not thought by the auction house to be by a hand close to the artist, it was believed to date from the 18th century. In terms of its condition, areas of retouching were visible thoroughout the picture under UV light including to the face, hair and background.

The estimate of £1000-1500 again seems to have raised interest and it was eventually knocked down at £7500 to a Florentine dealer.

Dutch double


Family group attributed to Hendrik Pothoven, £3000 at Sworders.

A Dutch family group portrait attributed to Hendrik Pothoven (1725-1807) sold to a private UK buyer on top estimate at £3000 - arguably something of a bargain too.

The 2ft 3in x 2ft 9in (69 x 85cm) oil on canvas was in keeping with other known portraits by the Amsterdam-born painter and draughtsman although the composition with seated figures and open door in the background was slightly unusual. The presence of a Culpeper microscope on the table and a globe on the floor may have given a clue to the sitters’ identity - perhaps something the buyer will seek to establish.

In terms of its condition, the canvas was relined and there was some small paint loss. A thick layer of varnish made any reading under UV light difficult which meant the extent of retouching was unclear.


Trompe-l’oeil catalogued as ‘Dutch School, 19th century’, £1200 at Sworders.

Another Dutch picture, although probably later in date, that drew interest was a trompe-l’oeil of artistic tools hanging on a wall - a palette, a mahl stick and brushes as well as two portrait miniatures. Measuring 2ft 2in x 23¼in (65 x 59cm), the oil on canvas was in decent condition with no obvious retouching although it had a thick layer of varnish.

Catalogued as simply ‘Dutch School, 19th century’, it caught the eye of a number of bidders and, against a £600-800 estimate, sold at £1200 to a buyer in France.

Indeed, the unusual composition and mixed array of objects could make it an appropriate metaphor for the Turpin collection as a whole.