Et in Ar­ca­dia ego

Mod­ern Bri­tish artists re­turn to the fore and the loss of po­ten­tial to war is keenly felt

Country Life Every Week - - Art Market -

AL­though Rex Whistler (1905–44) was not the orig­i­nal for Charles Ry­der in Brideshead Re­vis­ited, he may have con­trib­uted some­thing to Eve­lyn Waugh’s cre­ation. Cer­tainly, his ex­pe­ri­ence as a mid­dle­class artist en­thralled by the aris­to­cratic Paget fam­ily par­al­lels the story of Ry­der and the Flytes. there was no equiv­a­lent for Se­bas­tian Flyte, but Whistler seems to have fallen for the whole fam­ily when in 1936 and 1937 he was paint­ing the King­dom by the Sea mu­ral at the Mar­quess of An­gle­sey’s seat, Plas Newydd, and as with Ry­der and Ju­lia Flyte (even­tu­ally), he was par­tic­u­larly taken by the el­der daugh­ter, Lady Caro­line Paget.

he painted and drew her many times, giv­ing her an elfin at­trac­tion, and they ex­changed pas­sion­ate let­ters, al­though the pas­sion was stronger on his part than hers and the one nude study does not con­vince as a paint­ing from life. Cur­rent opin­ion holds that the af­fair was un­con­sum­mated, but Lady Caro­line told her son, Charles Duff, that, ‘af­ter she last saw him, she had de­cided that she was go­ing to tell him, next time he came home on leave, that she would marry him’. Whistler, how­ever, was killed on his first day in ac­tion as a tank com­man­der in Nor­mandy.

Whistler was a fine, witty mu­ral­ist and il­lus­tra­tor, but he was much more than a whim­si­cal jester and his wartime por­traits grew darker and stronger, cul­mi­nat­ing in the mov­ing self­por­trait in uni­form. It would be in­ter­est­ing to know how he would have pro­gressed af­ter the war—and how the mar­riage might have turned out.

Whistler seems to be com­ing back into fash­ion; his gai­ety is much needed now. At Sotheby’s last month, a 16in by 18in por­trait of Lady Caro­line (Fig 4) sold for a twice-es­ti­mate £68,750 and an­other, of her brother henry, later 7th Mar­quess, es­ti­mated to £18,000, reached £47,500.

how­ever a post­war Whistler might have de­vel­oped, he could never have gone in the di­rec­tion of Frank Auer­bach, whose ob­ses­sively worked can­vases take on the char­ac­ter of carved bas-re­liefs. to a de­gree, they do share one thing, how­ever. Auer­bach, born in 1931 and cur­rently lauded as the pre-emi­nent Bri­tish painter, is also ob­ses­sive about his mod­els, but in a very dif­fer­ent man­ner. As the late Juliet Yard­ley Mills, who sat for him week by week from 1956 to 1997 re­called af­ter her re­tire­ment: ‘We had a won­der­ful re­la­tion­ship be­cause I thought the world of him and he was very fond of me. there was no sort of ro­mance but we were very close. Real friends. Sun­days now I’m al­ways mis­er­able.’ here, the 20in by 22in Head of Jym III (Fig 3), painted in 1981, sold for a low-es­ti­mate £440,750. An­other Mod­ern Bri­tish fig­ure whose work is en­joy­ing its mo­ment is the sculp­tor Reg But­ler (1913–81) and, on the ev­i­dence of this Sotheby sale, col­lec­tors might be wise to look out for his small bronze fig­ures. Num­ber six from an edition of nine of his Musée Imag­i­naire—39 fig­ures ar­ranged on a set of shelves (Fig 1)—sold for a twice-es­ti­mate £100,000. It was con­ceived in the 1960s, when But­ler was ex­hib­ited along­side gi­a­cometti and, al­though

But­ler did not mar­ket these fig­ures in­di­vid­u­ally, he made oth­ers. There were sev­eral in this sale, with the cheap­est be­ing the 5¼in­high Fetish at £2,500 (Fig 2).

An­cient sculp­ture was also in de­mand at Sotheby’s, notably a well-pre­served 22¼in-high mar­ble bust of a mid-2nd-cen­tury lightly bearded Ro­man man

(Fig 5), who had done at least some mil­i­tary ser­vice, as in­di­cated by his palu­da­men­tum, or cape. This was carved from a sin­gle piece of mar­ble. It went well over es­ti­mate to take £728,750, paid by the Lon­don dealer Daniel Katz.

Else­where, a May sport­ing sale at Bon­hams, Ed­in­burgh, saw £25,000 paid for a three­fold screen fram­ing por­traits of the cham­pion point­ers, Ham­let (1868), Bang (1876) and Drake (1875), by Ge­orge Earl (Fig 7). There was also an el­e­gant oak ‘Sports­man’s’ rod and gun cab­i­net by Hardy, which sold for £1,875 (Fig 8).

The Milan BBPR ar­chi­tec­tural and de­sign prac­tice was formed in 1932, tak­ing its name from the part­ners’ ini­tials: Banfi, Bar­biano di Bel­gio­joso, Per­es­sutti and Rogers. Af­ter a brief flir­ta­tion with the Fas­cists, they turned to the re­sis­tance—lodovico Bar­biano di Bel­gio­joso and Gian­luigi Banfi were im­pris-

oned in Mau­thausen, where the for­mer died in 1944, adding poignancy to his part­ners’ post­war Mon­u­ment to the Vic­tims of Nazi Con­cen­tra­tion Camps

in Milan’s Na­tional Ceme­tery.

They were also re­spon­si­ble for the strik­ing 1954 Torre Ve­lasca in the city, which blends Modernism with me­dieval cas­tle de­sign. A de­sign sale at PIASA in Paris saw an ex­am­ple of their el­e­gant and purely Mod­ernist 1962 pla­fon­nier-ap­plique, or ceil­ing lights de­sign, sell for €54,600 (Fig 6 ).

Next week Gods and gad­gets

Fig 1: Musée Imag­i­naire by Reg But­ler. £100,000

Fig 4: Lady Caro­line Paget by Whistler. £68,750

Fig 3: Head of Jym III by Auer­bach. £440,750

Fig 2: But­ler’s Fetish. £2,500

Fig 6 right: BBPR pla­fon­nier­ap­plique. €54,600. Fig 7 be­low left: Three-fold screen with cham­pion point­ers. £25,000. Fig 8 be­low right: Hardy rod and gun cab­i­net. £1,875

Fig 5: Bust of mid-2nd-cen­tury Ro­man man. £728,750

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