Dora Carrington ‘tinsel’ painting of circus is top lot as buyers splash the cash in Somerset auction

Circus Performers by Dora Carrington – £47,000 at Lawrences of Crewkerne.

“There’s no money around in January” is the refrain you often hear from businesses in the new year. But, as we know, the auction world behaves differently from other commercial markets.

Extracted from Antiques Trade Gazette | Gabriel Berner

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Richard Kay, director and picture specialist at Lawrences (22% buyer’s premium) of Crewkerne puts it this way: “If you offer something people want, even if they are struggling to pay the mortgage or the school fees or whatever it might be, they find money for art and antiques that they might not get a chance to buy elsewhere.”

The firm’s January 18 sale included, by way of example, a so-called ‘tinsel’ painting of circus performers by Dora Carrington (1893-1932). These playful and light-hearted creations – quite different from the artist’s mainstream work with the Bloomsbury Group – were produced during the 1920s and early ‘30s.

Carrington’s method involved creating an outline in dark inks on the back of a glass pane, filling in the outline with textured foil paper from sweet wrappers and then covering the image with a blend of opaque and transparent paints.

Although initially made as gifts for friends, Carrington later sold tinsel pictures through Fortnum & Mason for between 35 shillings and £2 each.

The picture at Lawrences fell into the ‘gifts for friends’ category: passed by descent from Lettice Kirkpatrick, to whom the picture was given as a wedding present in 1927 by Gerald Brenan – an author, friend and lover of Carrington.

At 15 x 11½in (38 x 29cm), the work was larger than most, which usually come in the size of a paperback book.

Guided at £5000-7000, it drew interest from both private buyers and the trade, with the latter bidding to around £20,000 before two private bidders – one from London the other from the West Country – battled it out. It was eventually knocked down to the latter at £47,000.

“When you have a perfect combination of subject matter, rarity and size, provenance, condition and decorative appeal – there is a kind of alchemy. The price will go far beyond any reasonable expectation,” said Kay.

The sum is a new auction high for a tinsel portrait by Carrington, bettering a floral still-life that made £17,000 at Christie’s in November 2003 and later sold again as part of the Stanley Seeger collection at Sotheby’s in March 2014 for £8000.

Wallis fishing boat

By coincidence, Carrington was connected to another lot in the £270,000 Crewkerne picture section: a small oil of a fishing boat by Alfred Wallis (1855-1942).

The 6¾ x 11½in (17 x 29cm) oil on card, inscribed with the title French Fishing[sic] Boat, had belonged to Christopher Mason (the husband of Carrington’s niece, Joanna).

Mason made the influential short film Alfred Wallis – Artist and Mariner in 1973.

The painting had been given to the couple by their close friend Alan Rowe, who had purchased it for £1000 in November 1973 from Ann Stokes, second wife of the artist, critic and writer Adrian Stokes.

Buyers are all too aware of Wallis fakes so this provenance was especially valuable. It sold to a local private buyer within estimate at £16,500.

A second picture by Wallis from the same source will be offered by the saleroom on April 12, guided at £8000-12,000.

Worldwide views

Berber Horsemen by Hassan El Glaoui – £17,000 at Lawrences of Crewkerne.

Moroccan interest in the sale centred on a typically spirited depiction of Berber horsemen by Hassan El Glaoui (1924-2018). Sir Winston Churchill is said to have ‘discovered’ El Galoui on a visit to Morocco in 1943 and talked his reluctant parents into sending him to art school.

The artist, who died last year, has a keen following in north Africa. Interest in the 2ft 1in x 3ft 6in (64cm x 1.06m) gouache, consigned from a local vendor, came exclusively from Morocco and it sold just below top estimate for £17,000.

A 13 x 20in (33 x 49cm) watercolour and pencil by Andrew Nicholl (1804-86)inscribed with the title to the verso Lake and temples of Kandy sold at £7600. The winning bidder, using, paid more than 10 times the top estimate.

Nicholl was from Belfast and a founding member of the Belfast Association of Artists, but in 1849 was sent by the government to work as an art teacher at the Colombo Academy, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

He made friends with the colonial secretary there, Sir James Emerson Tennent (1804-69), a fellow Belfast man. He was commissioned by him to produce many scenes for his book Ceylon: An Account of the Island – Physical, Historical and Topographical, published in 1860. In 1870 he offered watercolour views of Ceylon to Queen Victoria, who bought two of them.

Canine art appeals in the US

Elsewhere, a sugary portrait of a West Highland white terrier, seated with its head slightly cocked to one side was knocked down at £7400, nearly three times the top guide.

The 17 x 13in (44 x 34cm) oil on canvas by Samuel Fulton (1855-1941) drew interest from North America, where Victorian and 20th century canine art – especially pictures of small dogs – has a long collecting history.