Dreweatts auction of Fine Pictures at Donnington Priory this April features a broad group of works from the 18thc. through to the present day in a variety of media by British and international artists.
2018 marks 100 years since the passing of the Representation of the People Act in which the right to vote was extended to women. With impeccable timing the forthcoming auction features a portrait of the political activist and campaigner for women’s rights, Leonora Philipps (1862-1915). Mrs Philipps gazes out directly at the viewer with an expression that’s both benign and strong and in her lap she holds a little pile of purple flowers. The work dates from 1896 and along with the blooms and their green leaves the sitter in her pure white dress presciently presents us with the three colours – purple, green and white – chosen by the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1908 to distinguish them in their political movement. After her marriage in 1888 to John Wynford Philipps she embarked upon a busy and productive life of public work with the late Victorian women’s movement. In her short life her considerable energy and gift for public speaking were put to use in the service of numerous organisations and campaigns.
Another highlight, The Black Domino, by Philip Wilston Steer (British, 1860-1942), portrays an enigmatic and unidentified sitter. It has been suggested that the title was inspired by the heroine of a play by the same name which was playing at the Adelphi Theatre at the time or that it may simply refer to the sitter’s costume as Black Domino was a term for mourning dress. The work dates from a time in the artist’s career when his portraiture and figure studies consciously drew on the work of Gainsborough. In the Black Domino Steer demonstrates a desire to work in a monochrome palette as well as an almost obsessive attention to the detail of the sitter’s costume.
Untitled, by the Spanish artist, Manuel Marin (1942-2007) bears the distinct influence of Alexander Calder. Marin’s works are recognisable by their bright colours and asymmetric shapes and his distinctive mobiles have been exhibited all over the world. From 1962 Marin was based in London where he worked in an art gallery and through which he met Henry Moore, who later employed him as his assistant. After twenty years in London he moved to New York and from 1969 he turned to sculpture and kinetic art and his first exhibition was held at the Allan Brown Gallery, Scarsdale, New York.
Two works by Alan Davie (British, 1920-2014) from 1976 and 2003 demonstrate his broad and eclectic output which characterised his career of over 60 years’ standing. Davie is recognised as the first British artist after World War II to develop an expressive form of abstraction. He initially started out as a poet, jewellery maker and jazz musician, before becoming a painter. His formative years were spent in Europe and on his return he pursued unconventional working methods: performing at speed with boards and canvases packed around the walls and floor of his studio and painting with large brushes and in liquid paint.
Davie’s works from the early 1970s were inspired by his visits to St. Lucia where he spent part of each year living and working. He tapped into the art of ancient cultures and explored cosmologies less well known in the western world. Paintings from this era feature formally controlled cornucopias of pictograms, symbols and text, as seen in the watercolour, Diagram from a North Coast, right.
In his later work, Joyful Awakening opus 01651, Davie depicts a highly coloured and striking motif based on ancient Carib Indian petroglyphs interspersed with modern and other ancient references. He had first encountered petroglyphs when trekking through the Venezuelan jungle in the 1980s and he later discovered that these forms, dating from 3000 BC, are found in other cultures; furthermore, he delighted in the fact that their meaning could not be explained so striking a parallel with his own elusive visual and non-verbal images.
The British artist, Nicholas Hely-Hutchinson (b. 1955) studied at St Martins School of Art and his early works demonstrated the influence of Dufy and Matisse.
In The Palm House, Kew Gardens, the artist is some way from Dorset whose countryside acts as the muse for much of his work. Hely-Hutchinson also draws on the English Neo Romantic tradition as exemplified by Edward Bawden, John Minton and Eric Ravilious amongst others. The whimsical perspective in this work and its decorative elements reflect this aesthetic. In his own words, ‘the seasons and the constantly changing moods of the countryside are my inspiration…large dramatic landscapes, where people and animals seem small under the passing clouds to smaller things…a bird in a cold winter sky…’.
Fine Pictures, Thursday 26th April 2018, 10.30am / Dreweatts, Donnington Priory / Viewing from Sunday 22nd April