In the club

As a mem­bers’ club makes ma­jor changes, its tra­di­tional paint­ings and car­toons en­chant the sale­room

Country Life Every Week - - Art Market - Huon Mal­lalieu

Two years ago, the cur­rent own­ers of a tra­di­tional pri­vate mem­bers’ club in May­fair de­cided to ‘gen­tly up­date its in­te­ri­ors’ and, re­port­edly less gen­tly, its mem­ber­ship, in or­der to make it ‘the most ex­clu­sive club in London’. Ac­cord­ing to one of the part­ners: ‘It’s go­ing to be a global A-list, from a va­ri­ety of back­grounds, old world and New world. You can’t just have a name or money to get in; the main qual­i­fi­ca­tion is, you have to be in­ter­est­ing.’

Nat­u­rally, they and their de­signer con­sid­ered that ‘in­ter­est­ing’ peo­ple would not be in­ter­ested in tra­di­tional paint­ings or a col­lec­tion of car­toons by such mas­ters of the art as Beer­bohm and Pont. The re­sult was a very sat­is­fac­tory sale for Harry MooreGwyn of the 25 Blythe Road auc­tion co-op­er­a­tive on be­half of what the cat­a­logue iden­ti­fied only as ‘a Pri­vate London Club’.

Two of the Ponts—his real name was Gra­ham Lai­dler (1908–40) —were among my favourites of all his works for Punch. one, from ‘The Bri­tish Char­ac­ter’ se­ries, was the 8in by 9in ink draw­ing Pas­sion for not for­get­ting the mod­er­ately great (Fig 2) in which the stat­ues in­clude ‘Joseph Parker Esq In­ven­tor of the Prad­dle­scope’ (May 12, 1937)—it sold for £3,720.

The clas­sic of club­land sangfroid I am per­fectly aware of that my man (Septem­ber 11, 1940) as a bomb plunges through

the li­brary, reached £7,920. The most ex­pen­sive Max Beer­bohm at £7,498 was a satire on the Kaiser and his son Lit­tle Wil­lie ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the Dawn­ing of a hor­rid doubt as to Divine Right.

Of the paint­ings, the most ex­pen­sive was a wild­fowl­ing scene by the sought-af­ter Rus­sian Ivan Pokhitonov (1850–1923), which reached £115,200. Then, at £19,440, there was a por­trait of great med­i­cal in­ter­est. This was a 30in by 24in half-length of the sur­geon Richard Guy (Fig 1), which was at­trib­uted to Robert Edge Pine (1730–88). As The

Gentle­man’s Mag­a­zine noted some years af­ter­wards: ‘Mr Richard Guy (fa­mous for his cure of can­cers) died on Sun­day, 27th Septem­ber, 1767 of a sud­den stroke of the gout in his breast. He was well in the morn­ing, and was dead in the evening.’ There was irony in that his spe­cial­ity was breast can­cers.

Although a sur­geon, rather than the knife, he ad­vo­cated treat­ment with a se­ries of medicines to at­tack tu­mours and, in 1762, he pub­lished a book on the sub­ject, which he holds in the por­trait. He does not seem to have been re­lated to Thomas Guy of the Hos­pi­tal.

Ninety-two of the 100 lots were sold and, on the same day, April 5, Sotheby’s had 90% suc­cess with its ‘Made in Bri­tain’ auc­tion. Es­sen­tially, the la­bel means a sale of Mod­ern Bri­tish paint­ings, sculp­tures and works on pa­per ac­com­pa­nied by a num­ber of con­tem­po­rary stu­dio ce­ram­ics and one or two ap­pro­pri­ate pieces of fur­ni­ture. The £187,500 top lot is rather dif­fi­cult to cat­e­gorise, even though it is a very fa­mous im­age. Chris Levine’s Light­ness of Be­ing (Fig 5), 2004 is not just a pho­to­graph, nor per­haps strictly a work on pa­per—it is a 501 ⁄4in by 401 ⁄4in ‘unique pig­ment print, flush­mounted to alu­minium’.

As Mr Levine said in an in­ter­view: ‘Whilst my pho­to­graphic work has be­come quite well known, I don’t con­sider my­self a pho­tog­ra­pher—i’m an artist who uses pho­tog­ra­phy when rel­e­vant to my vis­ual ob­jec­tives. The work I do with light, the more ex­pe­ri­en­tial side of things, is more dif­fi­cult to de­fine, so the la­bel of pho­tog­ra­pher by de­fault seems so of­ten the way.’

He was com­mis­sioned to pro­duce an of­fi­cial por­trait of The Queen to mark the 800 years of Jer­sey’s al­le­giance to the Crown af­ter the loss of the main­land Duchy of Nor­mandy in 1204. The im­age it­self, in which the sit­ter is rest­ing her eyes and thus ap­pears to be med­i­tat­ing, came about by chance, be­tween what were in­tended to be the prin­ci­pal shots of the ses­sion. It turned out to be all and more that Mr Levine had hoped: ‘As with all my por­traits, it’s about achiev­ing still­ness and the truth that is re­vealed when there is this state of seren­ity.’

Grosvenor School linocuts con­tin­ued to be pop­u­lar, no­tably a fine im­pres­sion of Speed­way

(Fig 3) by Sy­bil Andrews (1898–

1992). The 123 ⁄4in by 91 ⁄4in (plate mea­sure­ment) trial proof sold for £60,000 against an up­per es­ti­mate of £45,000. An­other print that is a peren­nial favourite is C. R. W. Nevin­son’s 1916 dry­point Re­turn­ing to the

Trenches, but a ‘clear, crisp im­pres­sion’ (Fig 6), mea­sur­ing 6in by 77⁄8in, made a low-es­ti­mate £50,000.

Clear and crisp could also de­scribe Pa­trick Hughes’s 3D paint­ings, such as the 1996 A Real

Il­lu­sion (Fig 7), which made £40,000. The 23¾in by 42½in by 11¾in shaped board of li­brary shelves had the un­set­tling ef­fect of all Mr Hughes’s work.

Among the ce­ram­ics were 10 lots by Lu­cie Rie, in­clud­ing an early lilac-glazed earth­en­ware bowl that reached an un­ex­pected £25,000, but there were also ex­am­ples by less gen­er­ally known pot­ters. There were two bowls by Em­manuel Cooper (1938– 2012), who was at least as well re­garded for his writ­ing as for his pots. A 16in-di­am­e­ter blue bowl with a ‘thick vol­canic’ glaze sold for £4,375 (Fig 4). Next week Deal­ers’ show

Fig 1: Half-length por­trait of the sur­geon Richard Guy, at­trib­uted to Robert Edge Pine. £19,440


Fig 2 left: Pont’s Pas­sion for not for­get­ting… car­toon for Punch. £3,720. Fig 3 above: Trial proof of Sy­bil Andrews’s


Fig 6 top: Nevin­son’s Re­turn­ing to the Trenches. £50,000. Fig 7 above: A Real Il­lu­sion. £40,000

Fig 5: Chis Levine’s cel­e­brated 2004 por­trait of The Queen Light­ness of Be­ing. £187,500

Fig 4: Blue bowl by Em­manuel Cooper. £4,375

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