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Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Works by The Glasgow Boys for Sotheby’s London Auction of Scottish Pictures

Sotheby’s auction of Scottish Pictures on Wednesday, 29 September, 2010, in London offers a selection of works spanning over a century, from the Glasgow Boys through the Scottish Colourists, to modern works by living artists. The 152 lots are expected to bring in the region of £2.4 million.

Peter Howson, Hotel Imperial – The Last Tigers, estimated at £30,000-50,000 (lot 144). from a private collection (lots 144-146). Photo: Sotheby’s

Speaking about the sale, Michael Grist, Sotheby’s Scottish Pictures Specialist, comments: “Sotheby’s continuing dominance in the Scottish paintings market in recent years was confirmed in April this year, when we set a new auction record for an artwork by a Scottish Colourist, an achievement that is a testament to the quality and international appeal of these wonderful pictures. This season we have assembled a striking selection of works, not only by this group of artists, but others too, including the Glasgow Boys whose long overdue exposure has been boosted by the current retrospective exhibition in Glasgow, its imminent transfer to London and Sotheby’s upcoming sale. The auction will showcase important works by established contemporary artists such as Peter Howson and Stephen Conroy, but we are also keen and delighted to be offering works by their contemporaries, John Cunningham and James Morrison. The range of artworks and artists in the sale will no doubt attract the attention of both connoisseurs and collectors”.

The Glasgow Boys
Opening the sale is a strong group of works by the Glasgow Boys. Esteemed by collectors and academics alike, the artists are enjoying a renaissance, as witnessed by a retrospective currently on view at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, soon to relocate to the Royal Academy in London. These young Scottish artists came to prominence in the mid-1880s and very quickly established a distinct and influential presence on the Scottish arts scene. They were avidly supported by the new collectors created by Glasgow’s burgeoning economy. Never a formal group, the Glasgow Boys were often identified as such, no doubt arising from their shared confrontation of the conventional Scottish arts establishment. Overshadowed by the Colourist Group, these artists are at the helm of a full scale revival of interest and the works on offer in Sotheby’s sale will further strengthen their appeal.

Rhymer’s Hill (lot 7) by Edward Arthur Walton (1860-1922) is an important painting within the artist’s body of work. The tonal harmonies, textured surface and naturalistic realism betray all the hallmarks that define the reputation of the Glasgow Boys at the turn of the twentieth century. Walton sought to reject clichéd Highland views and suppress incident by adopting a more matter-of-fact realism in rural scenes. This approach was influenced by French painter Jules Bastien-Lepage, a keen advocate of plein air painting, whose pictures – exhibited in London in 1882 and seen by Walton – provided the artist with a new and credible direction in which to steer his own concept of naturalism. In Rhymer’s Hill the Scots pine trees stretch beyond the canvas and frame the composition, while the diagonal tree cutting through the centre of the work provides a dynamic element, both examples of the formal pictorial devices so favoured by Walton. Little interaction takes place between the figures in the right-hand corner and their inclusion is a subtle addition which does not detract from the simplicity of the scene. Estimated at £70,000-90,000, the present work is a fine example of Walton’s intimate and sensitive response to nature upon which his reputation was built.

These artists were not exclusively Scottish-bound, as exemplified in Arthur Melville’s Garnet Sails (lot 19), estimated at £50,000-70,000. An associate of the Glasgow Boys, Melville (1855-1904) excelled with watercolour. In this view of the Rialto Bridge in Venice, the artist’s handling of the medium is confident, with form rendered in bold and purposeful brushstrokes. Depicting the bridge from a high and tight angle, Melville demonstrates an astute treatment of perspective. The vertical masts intersecting the picture plane instill a harmony and rhythm, qualities that define Melville as a master of watercolour.

A highly distinctive portrait by John Quinton Pringle (1864-1925), Man with Tobacco Pouch, is a rare example of the artist’s work to come to the market. Dating from 1903, it depicts a Glasgow character nicknamed Kruger, for his likeness to the contemporary Boer leader. The surface of the canvas is a rich layering of paint, which almost submerges the sitter within the landscape backdrop. Dabs of colour are used to indicate spindly plant-like forms that sit on the picture’s surface, and Kruger’s hand appears to be brushing this veil aside. Revered in Scotland and much deserving of greater recognition, Pringle produced only some one hundred works, many of which are in international collections (notably the Kelvingrove in Glasgow and Tate Gallery in London). Man with Tobacco Pouch is estimated at £70,000-100,000.

Edwards Atkinson Hornel (1864-1933) is represented in the sale with The Japanese Garden (lot 10, est. £25,000-35,000), a fine example of the artist’s penchant for Japonaiserie as an ongoing source of inspiration after the artist’s first-hand experience in Japan.

The Scottish Colourists
Following on from the record established at Sotheby’s in April 2010 when Samuel John Peploe’s Tulips sold for £623,500, setting a new benchmark for a work by a Scottish Colourist at auction, the September sale includes two superb still lifes by the artist. Still Life of Roses in a Blue and White Vase (lot 92) combines bold colour, assured handling and controlled composition. Estimated at £250,000-350,000, it is an exceptional example of Peploe’s mature style, dating to the 1920s when he was at the height of his career. His paintings of roses mark the epitome of his still life pictures of this period and the present work is one of a series Peploe produced at this time, all of them linked by complex compositional arrangements, vivid colouration and pictorial motifs (the white books, the blue and white porcelain, the lacquer fan and the contrasting fabric drapes). It was during this stage that Peploe abandoned the thick black outlines he had employed earlier, and he also stopped varnishing his pictures to allow the pure colour of the paint to show through. The execution of the perfect still life became an obsession for the artist and it dominated his career. It was both an aesthetic and intellectual exercise, involving hours of contemplation over each arrangement before Peploe finally put brush to canvas. The outcome, however, was always expressive and painterly, and it is in this combination that the artist’s brilliance lies. Peploe’s contribution to the genre of still life painting is probably without equal in British art in the twentieth century, and this is emphasised by a further work in the sale, Still Life with Pink Roses in a Glass Vase (lot 98, est. £250,000-350,000).

The first of the two private collections on offer comprises six lots (85-91) with a combined low estimate of £164,000. Chief among these is a double-sided oil on canvas by the Scottish Colourist George Leslie Hunter (1877-1931), The Mill Dam, Fife (Recto); Portrait of Tom Honeyman (Verso), estimated at £50,000-70,000 (lot 88). This view of a Fife farm is coupled with a striking portrait of Tom Honeyman in white tie on the reverse. It is highly unusual in that seven years separate the recto and verso. The Mill Dam, Fife is one of Hunter’s favourite and most enduring subjects and it encapsulates the artist’s ultimate aim to capture the very essence of nature in his paintings, a premise based on Cézanne’s doctrines. Recovering from a serious illness, Hunter was encouraged to paint portraits by Honeyman, the first owner of the present work and indeed many others by the artist. Four landscapes by John MacLauchlan Milne (1885-1957) from the same collection are painted with similar colour harmonies and tonal values. Blossom over White Cottages, Arran, estimated at £30,000-50,000 (lot 91) is a view of whitewashed crofters’ cottages.

Ten lots (109-119), Property From A Deceased Estate, comprise the second private collection in the sale, estimated to sell in the region of £100,000. The Scottish Colourists dominate the group, with a beach scene by Cadell painted on Iona and a view of the Alhambra music hall in London by Fergusson. Iona and Ben More by Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell (1883-1937) captures the austerity of the artist’s compositions pared down to their essentials, and the sublime colour scheme of green, blue and white (lot 112, est. £40,000-60,000). The present view depicts the white sands and azure waters of Iona Sound looking across to the island of Mull with Ben More rising from its midst. Despite the picture’s cool tones, Cadell has captured the brilliance of summer sunlight. This location – also favoured by Peploe – became as significant to Cadell’s mastery of colour and light as the still lifes and interiors painted in Edinburgh.

The Alhambra, Leicester Square, Evening by John Duncan Fergusson (1874-1961) probably dates to 1908 or the previous year, when Fergusson was living in Paris but making sporadic visits to London. Estimated at £30,000-50,000 (lot 113), the present picture is similar to the street scenes painted by the artist in Paris, with the rich impasto capturing the glimmering lights of early evening. The Alhambra music hall stood on the east side of Leicester Square until 1936. It had been built in pseudo-Moroccan style in the 1880s and in its heyday was one of the busiest and most beautiful theatres in the world.

A further work by Fergusson also takes nightlife as its subject. Estimated at £150,000-250,000, A Montmartre Nightclub (lot 95, illustrated on front page) is an important early work dating to 1907 and typical of this period in the artist’s oeuvre, with heavily applied paint and bold use of colour. The Café d’Harcourt was a meeting place for the Parisian intelligentsia, and one of the many cafes and nocturnal haunts that so intrigued the young artist. Never before offered at auction, the painting was owned by Harry McColl, a businessman living in Paris who Fergusson befriended, and Margaret Morris, the artist’s partner.

A still life by Anne Redpath (1895-1965) entitled Poppies is estimated at £80,000-120,000 (lot 99). Painted in the late 1940s, it shows a striking balance between the subtle palette synonymous with Redpath’s work of that decade and the more vibrant colours of her paintings produced in the 1950s and beyond. The artist often employed a steeply angled perspective, as seen here, propelling the still life towards the viewer. Poppies was acquired directly from the artist by the mother of the present owner.

Contemporary Artists
Spearheading a selective group of modern works in the sale are three paintings by Peter Howson, from a private collection (lots 144-146). The centrepiece is the artist’s Hotel Imperial – The Last Tigers, estimated at £30,000-50,000 (lot 144). Howson had travelled to India in 1999 with the intention of painting tigers at the Bandhavgarh reserve, alongside animal painter Nicola Hicks. The trip was beset with problems and when Hicks was taken ill, they both eventually returned home without fulfilling their ambition. Howson had sufficiently absorbed enough of the continent’s sights and sounds to produce a number of works in the UK. The present picture is undoubtedly the most important: an apocalyptic, surreal vision, on a monumental scale, of tigers surrounded and hunted down by men with clubs and guns. Despite endeavouring to protect themselves, the tigers appear to be on the verge of being overwhelmed by the advancing army to the left of the composition. The group of people sitting around a table taking tea and being entertained by table dancers are predominantly white, with one man wearing a pith helmet, a reference to Britain’s colonial past and oppression. The hellish furnace and chimney spewing smoke, together with the wizened landscape, combine to evoke the unstoppable rise of industry and its effect on the landscape. The remaining two works by Howson from the collection are The Cally Riot (lot 124, est. £8,000-12,000) and Phoenix (lot 146, est. £8,000-12,000). Other notable modern works to close the sale are Figure Study by Stephen Conroy (lot 148, Est. £30,000-40,000) and Scarlet Ribbons, Lovely Ribbons by Jack Vettriano (lot 152, est. £30,000-50,000).

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