Sir Alfred Munnings Painting for Bonhams 20th Century British Art Auction

Picture recalls Rothschild image destroyed in Blitz

An early racing painting by Sir Alfred Munnings leads Bonhams New Bond Street’s sale of 20th Century British Art on Wednesday 17 March 2010. Originally in the collection of the prominent English racehorse owner and breeder, J.V. Rank, it is the first time that this work has been offered at auction. Other highlights in the sale include a newly discovered work by David Bomberg together with a group of pictures by John Craxton and a number of paintings that were last seen on the walls of major public art exhibitions in London.

Sir Alfred Munnings PRA, RWS (1878-1959) is well-known for his love of racing, with “the groupings, the movement and the colour” never failing to inspire him. His insight and knowledge of equine movement together with his genius in capturing light and colour for which he is well known, are clearly seen in this early racing work, The Start, Newmarket (estimate: £500,000-700,000). Here he shows his ability to capture the dynamic energy of a group of racehorses as they jockey for position before the start of a race. Developing the drama further, he has isolated the figures from any other visual distraction and has intentionally kept both sky and landscape bare to focus the viewer’s attention on the atmosphere and emotion of the painting. This work is a smaller version of October Meeting, Newmarket that had been in the collection of Anthony de Rothschild but was destroyed in the Blitz during World War II.

A hitherto unknown work by David Bomberg (1890-1957) entitled The canal lock, 1951 (estimate: £30,000-50,000) will be on view for the first time since its recent identification by the artist’s family. Following the Second World War, Bomberg began to focus on the natural world again. His enthusiasm for the subject can be seen here, in which he appears to rejoice in nature’s abundance through the use of uninhibited brushmarks. An earlier work by Bomberg is also offered, Portrait of Lilian Bomberg (estimate: £20,000-30,000) in which his partner Lilian is depicted, withdrawn into a world of shadows, possibly reflecting her air of sadness at leaving Spain before the start of the civil war.

A collection of six works by John Craxton (1922-2009), bought directly from the Leicester Galleries during the 1940s and 1950s, is the first major group of his work to be offered since his death. The six works are led by Cretan landscape, late 1940s (estimate: £10,000-15,000), an oil dating from Craxton’s earliest visits to Greece in the late 1940s. Experimenting with new techniques, he was heavily influenced by the local shepherds and their outer garments as seen here. In Landscape on plywood, 1956 (estimate: £10,000-15,000), Craxton was influenced by the artist Nikos Ghika, resulting in an elongated and panoramic view, possibly of Hydra. While Craxton’s love of fish and seafood can be clearly seen in Small fish; Small monochrome fish, 1956 (estimate: £6,000-8,000).

A meeting with the artist L.S. Lowry in the 1960s was to have a profound affect on the style of artist Helen Bradley (1900-1979), who encouraged her to paint using her childhood memories. The result was the creation of her own naive narrative style, richly coloured and two dimensional Blackpool Beach, 1971 (estimate: £70,000-90,000), one of the largest paintings to appear at auction in the last twenty years, depicts a Punch & Judy show taking place against the backdrop of a crowded beach. A further work, painted for her grandson’s 21st birthday, Industrial Street Scene, 1974 (estimate: £25,000-35,000) is also offered, depicting the bustle of an Edwardian city street.

Highly regarded by his colleagues, Michael Andrews (1928-1995) is considered one of Britain’s leading post-war artists. However he worked incredibly slowly and as a result his work rarely comes up for sale. Study of a Head for a Group of Figures No 7, 1967 (estimate: £20,000-30,000) is a fine example from this period, that has been extensively exhibited. It has only recently been revealed to be a portrait of Paula Rego’s husband, Victor Willing. Painted while on holiday, when Victor rested his head on a cardboard cut out body of the sort found at the seaside, it explains the apparent division between head and body. The sale also includes two later colourful abstract works by Patrick Heron (1920-1999), 5.15p.m. June 11th 1984 (estimate: £20,000-30,000) and June 17th:84 (estimate: £20,000-30,000) that featured in the 1985 Barbican exhibition about the artist.

Further highlights include a group of four bronzes by Dame Elisabeth Frink RA (1930-1993). Maquette for Eagle, 1986 (estimate: £8,000-12,000), the first of a limited edition of ten, is a small scale model for the larger Eagle commissioned in 1986 as the Eagle Squadron Association Memorial in Grosvenor Square, London. While The Hop Pickers, 1945, by John Minton (1917-1957), (estimate: £10,000-15,000), a work on paper, conveys a happy mood in this neo-romantic work.