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Bloomsbury 20th Century British Art

There are certain ‘magic’ words that excite buyers, such as ‘fresh to the market’ and ‘a find’. Bloomsbury Auctions’ sale of 20th century British Art has many ‘fresh to the market’ paintings, ‘a find’ and even one or two artists whose work has never been sold at auction before. Each sale is becoming more successful than the last, word is spreading amongst private established and novice collectors as well as the trade, that Bloomsbury’s Modern and Contemporary Art sales are to be watched and the sale on 8th May is no exception.

The 20th Century British Art auction embraces a wide spectrum of artists from Frost, Piper, Lowry, Gill, Bratby and Blackadder to Wallis, Roberts, Paolozzi, Yates, John and Minton. However there are some especially noteworthy pieces by various other major artists. The cover lot is an unexpectedly sunny and optimistic oil on board by Mark Gertler (lot 17) Still Life with Poppies 1931 could be described as ‘Fauvist’, it was painted one year before the birth of his son and eight years before he committed suicide just as World War II was taking hold (estimate £12000-18000). Untitled Interior (lot 3) by the artist Harold Gilman is a ‘find’; he was an artist from the now fashionable Camden Town School of Art and a colleague of Sickert, even though they despised each other. This somewhat dour, signed painting, reminiscent of Sickert, in browns and greens shows the artist’s studio in about 1910-11 and has never been on the market, it is estimated £6000-8000. Lot 61 is a very early and attractive oil on board by Bryan Pearce, the butcher at St Ives and a friend of many of the St Ives artists. Given to Jane Furness, also a Cornish painter, by the artist in 1958, this charming Kitchen Still Life has also never been on the market before and is estimated £4000-6000. Another St Ives artist represented in the sale is Margaret Mellis, whose Landlocked Lighthouse (lot 100) is a collage of painted canvas pieces. Encouraged by Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, Mellis experimented with collage and relief; examples of her work can be seen at the Tate Gallery and later this summer The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich is holding a Mellis retrospective.

Bloomsbury has been selling works regularly by Francis Newton Souza, regarded by many as India’s answer to Picasso. Here there are four portraits by him and especially eyecatching is Volvox Head(lot 91), an oil on canvas estimated £10000-15000.

There are also 12 highly decorative gouache paintings by Scottie Wilson (lots 114-124). Regarded as an ‘outsider’ artist he was inspired by the Modern British Abstract School. The brightly coloured organic compositions involving fantastical birds, butterflies, flowers and animals often with delicate cross-hatching are reminiscent of embroideries and are expected to fetch between £600-1200.

Amongst the contemporary artists are four pieces by Billy Childish (lots 170-173), musician, poet and ex lover of Tracey Emin whose name was embroidered on her infamous tent. It was Emin who termed his art as ‘stuckist’ as she believed it to be ‘stuck’ in the past rather than exploding into the future like her work and that of Damien Hirst. Today Childish is a cult figure in England, America and Japan – an acclaimed artist who credits Munch and Van Gough as his greatest influences. This is the first time that the naive, figurative art of Childish has come up at auction, although recent prices for new work at the Aquarium Gallery in East London ranged between £15000-20000. Lot 174 Army of Occupation is by anti establishment artist Jimmy Cauty. The justified and ancient leader of KLF, Cauty is famous for burning £1 million. Now, however, Bloomsbury Auctions is selling his mixed media on canvas for a more modest £6000-8000.

Sir Peter Blake is the doyen of the British Pop Art Movement and his Madonna of Venice Beach No 2 is a highlight of Bloomsbury’s 20th Century British Art sale and is regarded as amongst the artist’s most celebrated bodies of work. This too is on the market for the first time and is an irreverent and amusing combination of old and new subject matter; a very contemporary young woman in a swimming costume cycles passed a typically Renaissance Madonna and Child sitting on a beach with palm trees (estimate £10000-15000).

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