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Hertfordshire art collection goes to auction

PUBLISHED: 09:49 12 March 2019

Edward Bawden, 'The Road to Thaxted' (Hertfordshire County Council)

Edward Bawden, 'The Road to Thaxted' (Hertfordshire County Council)

Hertfordshire County Council

Herts County Council is putting a major collection of post-war British art into auction. The authority's Simon Hoggett outlines the history of the collection and why it's being sold

An important collection of artworks owned by Hertfordshire County Council will be offered to the public at auction this month.

The 160 paintings, drawings and sketches will go on sale on March 21. This will be followed by two sales of 268 pieces, each valued under £100, in April and May. The sales at Cheffins Fine Art Auctioneers in Cambridge are expected to fetch between £200,000-£300,000.

Edward Wadsworth, 'Composition On A Blue Ground II (Hertfordshire County Council)Edward Wadsworth, 'Composition On A Blue Ground II (Hertfordshire County Council)

The principal sale includes works by some of the most renowned British artists of the 20th century, from the surrealist John Tunnard to the vorticist Edward Wadsworth. Other prominent painters include Frances Hodgkins, Julian Trevelyan, Michael Ayrton, Keith Vaughan and John Minton. Also included in the collection is a drawing of a theatre nurse made in 1948 on the foundation of the NHS by one of the greatest sculptors of the period, Barbara Hepworth.

John Tunnard, 'Brandis', 1944 (Hertfordshire County Council)John Tunnard, 'Brandis', 1944 (Hertfordshire County Council)

The council began to acquire the paintings in 1949 for the School Loan Collection, a post-war initiative by Sir John Newsom, Hertfordshire chief education officer at the time. The initiative involved obtaining artworks by contemporary British artists for Hertfordshire schools to borrow, therefore improving the educational experience of the county’s schoolchildren through exposure to original contemporary artworks. Many of the pieces were bought from dealers, artists and the annual Pictures for Schools exhibition established by artist and educationalist Nan Youngman in 1947 and which ran until 1969.

Anne Redpath, 'Blue Plate' (Hertfordshire County Council)Anne Redpath, 'Blue Plate' (Hertfordshire County Council)

In more recent years the School Loan Collection service has become less relevant to the evolving curriculum as students have the opportunity to experience art in new ways, such as gallery visits or through modern technology. It was suspended in 2012 and permanently discontinued in 2017. At that time, the county council decided that, due to the number of artworks and the lack of resources to manage it properly, the collection posed a significant liability which could result in the works remaining in storage where conditions are not ideal and conservation needs are not addressed.

Julian Trevelyan, 'Oxen' (Hertfordshire County Council)Julian Trevelyan, 'Oxen' (Hertfordshire County Council)

Given the county council is not best placed nor has the capacity to properly display and hold art, it was decided to sell a number of the works and gift the remainder to schools, museums and interested organisations in the county, retaining a small manageable number in the collection. To date, 112 works have been accepted as gifts by Hertfordshire organisations, and a further 1,074 works will be offered later this year. The authority plans to retain 167.

Robert MacBryde, 'Still Life With An Oil Lamp' (Hertfordshire County Council)Robert MacBryde, 'Still Life With An Oil Lamp' (Hertfordshire County Council)

The highlight of the collection being auctioned is a pastel work, Boy Reading, by much-loved Scottish artist, Joan Eardley, which has an estimate of £12,000-£18,000. Also from Scotland is a painting entitiled Blue Plate by Edinburgh School artist Anne Redpath with an estimate of £10,000-£15,000 and a still life by Robert MacBryde, estimated to sell for £7,000-£10,000. A surrealist picture by John Tunnard, Brandis, is estimated to make £10,000-£15,000.

Joan Eardley, 'Boy Drawing' (Hertfordshire County Council)Joan Eardley, 'Boy Drawing' (Hertfordshire County Council)

Closer to home are a series of pictures by artists from the renowned Great Bardfield circle, based in Essex, including Kenneth Rowntree, Michael Rothenstein, Edward Bawden and George Chapman. The collection also represents the works of two official war artists, John Nash and Richard Eurich.

John Minton, 'Mazagan' (Hertfordshire County Council)John Minton, 'Mazagan' (Hertfordshire County Council)

Brett Tryner, associate at Cheffins, said the company was honoured to offer the works for sale on behalf of the authority. He added, ‘This important collection is representative of the post-war artistic period. Many of the artists featured have seen a new-found appreciation over the past decade, with many of these post-war painters now achieving high prices at auction.

‘Although many of the artists had a strong reputation at the time of the council’s purchase, the vast proportion were often overlooked in place of bigger names from Europe or further afield. New-found appreciation, retrospectives and recent academic publications have helped to grow a burgeoning market for these artists among mainly UK-based collectors, galleries and institutions.’

Explaining the decision to sell these works, Terry Douris, council cabinet member for education, libraries and localism, said it is ‘the sensible thing to do’.

‘With 60 per cent of the art collection in storage and not available to the public, the county council believes that the approach it is taking to the art collection balances its fiduciary duty to its council tax payers to use the full resources available to it’s best advantage, whilst aiming to achieve much improved access and display of the retained collection for the public.’

Works being retained in the council collection include four wall hangings by the pre-eminent British artist weaver, Peter Collingwood. One is displayed in Welwyn Garden City Library and plans are being made for the others to be conserved and publicly displayed.

The main auction of 160 paintings, comprising a major representation of British post-war art, will be held at Cheffins Fine Art Auctioneers at Clifton House, 1-2 Clifton Road, Cambridge CB1 7EA on March 21. Two further sales of minor works from the council collection will be held at the auction house on April 25 and May 23. For more information regarding the sales and viewing days, go to cheffins.co.uk

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