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