Art mar­ket

The va­garies of value are thrown into sharp re­lief by paint­ings and vases

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Huon Mal­lalieu

At the view party for Sotheby’s sale of the Har­ri­son Col­lec­tion of Scot­tish Colourist paint­ings, when I was asked, not un­rea­son­ably, ‘Why were they called the Colourists?’, I was rather mor­ti­fied not to be able to do more than mum­ble about colour­ful­ness.

In fact, it’s not nec­es­sary to be em­bar­rassed. the four—s. J. Pe­ploe (1871–1935), J. D. Fer­gus­son (1874–1961), G. L. Hunter (1877– 1931) and F. C. B. Cadell (1883– 1937)—were only sad­dled with the name in the late 1940s and they had never been a close-knit group. In­deed, al­though friendly, they only ever ex­hib­ited to­gether on three oc­ca­sions. How­ever, all four ab­sorbed the in­flu­ences not only of slightly older French artists, such as Monet and Cézanne, but also of their own con­tem­po­raries Matisse and the Fauves, who were known for strong colour.

As tom Honey­man wrote of Cadell in his 1950 Three Scot­tish Colourists: ‘It was in Iona that Cadell lived his fuller life as an artist. And it is to his work there that the Scot­tish colour-tra­di­tion la­bel may be most fit­tingly ap­plied.’

Honey­man was an art dealer-turned-di­rec­tor of the Glas­gow Art Gallery. He was in­stru­men­tal in per­suad­ing Sir Wil­liam Bur­rell to do­nate his art col­lec­tion to the city and he was the friend who en­cour­aged the ship owner Maj Ion Har­ri­son to look at the Colourists. In turn, Har­ri­son be­came their friend as well as pa­tron, and he filled his house at He­lens­burgh with their work.

On Cadell’s first visit to the Croft, he was de­lighted to find his 24in by 18in still-life The

“Al­though I say it my­self, you have a damned good Cadell,” he laughed

Pink Aza­leas (Fig 3) hang­ing there, re­mark­ing to Har­ri­son: ‘I have of­ten won­dered where that pic­ture went. I con­grat­u­late you on ac­quir­ing it, and al­though I say it my­self, you have a damned good Cadell,’ be­fore break­ing into his in­fec­tious laugh. In­deed, Har­ri­son had sev­eral damned good Cadells.

Aza­leas is a re­mark­ably mus­cu­lar still life. the com­po­si­tion is fiercely cropped and an­gled, and the pink fragility of the flow­ers is pointed up by the hard, flat colours of the wall and ac­com­pa­ny­ing ob­jects. It was in­ter­est­ing to com­pare it with a 24in by 20in Pe­ploe still-life in the col­lec­tion, Michael­mas Daisies and Or­anges (Fig 6), in which the soft flow­ers blended with an equally soft back­ground of cur­tain and wall. the mar­ket pre­ferred the Pe­ploe, by £490,000 to £394,000; I would not agree. An­other strong Cadell was his 15in by 18in Port Ban, Iona (Fig 1), which fully il­lus­trates Honey­man’s judge­ment. On the back, Cadell wrote: ‘Ab­sorbent Ground. NEVER Var­nish.’ Var­nish would have spoiled the ef­fects he achieved by drag­ging the brush hor­i­zon­tally across the panel and, un­doubt­edly, it would have toned down the glo­ri­ous greens and pur­ples. As it is, one can feel and smell the salt wind. this one sold for £112,500. two interiors by Cadell topped the 31-lot sale, Re­flec­tion, at £874,000, and The White Room, which took £670,000. the whole group made more than £4.5 mil­lion, con­sid­er­ably above the ex­pected to­tal. Ear­lier on that same June day, in Paris,

One hopes it was a box from a cor­don­nier de luxe and not some bouif

Sotheby’s took €16.2 mil­lion (nearly £14.3 mil­lion) for an item that had been brought into the auc­tion house in a shoe­box. One hopes that it was a box from a cor­don­nier de luxe and not some bouif, but, as the fam­ily dis­liked the con­tents, it might well have been the lat­ter, a job­bing cob­bler.

The box con­tained a unique Im­pe­rial 18th-cen­tury ‘Yang­cai’ famille rose porce­lain vase (Fig 2) bear­ing a mark from the reign of the Qian­long Em­peror (r.1736–95), which the French ven­dors had dis­cov­ered by chance in the at­tic of their fam­ily home. It had been left to their grand­par­ents by an un­cle and, al­though the ex­act prove­nance be­fore 1947 could not be traced, there is ev­i­dence of fam­ily in­ter­est in Asian art in the mid 19th cen­tury. The vase is the only known ex­am­ple of its kind; it was pro­duced by the Jingdezhen work­shops for the Court of the Qian­long Em­peror. This nat­u­ral­is­tic gar­den dec­o­rat­ing the pear-shaped vase prob­a­bly rep­re­sents one of the parks de­signed for the Em­peror’s de­light. Such a scene may seem or­di­nary, but it is, in fact, full of mean­ing. The fal­low deer, syn­ony­mous with hap­pi­ness and pros­per­ity, is the mount of the god of longevity. Cranes, per­son­i­fy­ing old age, carry im­mor­tals through the air. Im­mor­tal­ity is fur­ther sym­bol­ised by lingzhi, mush­rooms grow­ing on the is­lands where the gods dwell. As a re­minder that not all Chi­nese ce­ram­ics will make huge sums, a dam­aged famille rose dragon-and-phoenix bot­tle vase (Fig 5), with a Qian­long mark but prob­a­bly dat­ing from the late 19th cen­tury, made £900 at Dreweatts a few days later. A month ear­lier, an­other Im­pe­rial trea­sure, as­so­ci­ated with the Jing­tai Em­peror (1449–57) had come up at Bon­hams. This one was a colos­sal 40¼in-high brass but­ter lamp (Fig 4), prob­a­bly made by Im­pe­rial or­der and pre­sented to a favoured Ti­betan Bud­dhist monastery. Dharma light from burning yak but­ter or oil sym­bol­ised the awak­en­ing of the spirit and was an of­fer­ing of light to en­light­ened be­ings. It would have been kept burning as a per­pet­ual flame, which was also a re­minder of the benef­i­cence of the Em­peror.

The six-char­ac­ter mark was ap­par­ently al­tered to re­flect the fact that, after Zheng­tong was cap­tured by Mon­gols, his half brother took the throne as Jing­tai and per­haps di­rected this lamp to his im­por­tant Jiangfu Im­pe­rial tem­ple. Luo Wen­hua, re­searcher at the Palace Mu­seum in Bei­jing, notes in the cat­a­logue that he has only seen writ­ten de­scrip­tions of lamps as big as this one. It sold for £1,328,750.

Fig 2: The Pink Aza­leas by Scot­tish Colourist Cadell. £394,000

Fig 1 above: Is­land in­spi­ra­tion: Port Ban, Iona by Cadell. £112,500. Fig 2 right: ‘Yang­cai’ famille rose porce­lain vase. €16.2 mil­lion

Fig 5 left: Famille rose dragon-and-phoenix bot­tle vase. £900. Fig 6 above: Michael­mas Daisies and Or­anges by Pe­ploe. £490,000

Fig 4: Brass but­ter lamp, linked to the Jing­tai Em­peror. £1,328,750

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