On Friday I went for a scout around my favourite auction – this isn't a stuffy serious fine art auction house, it's a treasure house of all sorts of stuff and has a friendly atmosphere (if you've never been to an auction this is a good place to start).
It's easy to get distracted, I spotted a lovely carpet, but I tried to be focused. I usually take a good look at the pictures and prints, one day something really interesting is going to turn up. On Friday I spotted a signature I recognised . . .
I skipped off to the auctioneer's office to check in the catalogue for the estimated price but found no mention of a print by Sheila Robinson. I asked the auctioneer about the print, he pointed to the lot number and explained it was included with the large oil painting next to it on the shelf – 'the nudes?!' 'Yes, the nudes – they're apparently by a well known artist'.
My heart sank, I didn't want to buy a massive oil painting of a Life Class and if it was by someone really well known I couldn't afford to make a bid. My Mum lives near the auction house, so I checked on her computer and found that the painter of 'the nudes' was a noted portraitist, but then again I really wanted that print by Sheila Robinson. So, on my way home I returned to the auctioneer's office and filled out a 'Commission Bid' form – we had things to do on Saturday so unfortunately I couldn't bid in person – I put down the price I'd be happy to pay for the print alone, a B.O.G.O.F. (buy one get one free), it was a gamble . . .
. . . which paid off! This morning I collected both pictures from the auction house, they're bigger than I remembered! It was a tight fit getting them into my car.
Here's the Sheila Robinson print, I think the date is 1985*, two years before she died and is marked 1/Artist's Proof. Sheila was an innovative printmaker who often printed from cut cardboard as well as lino; she worked as an illustrator and designed stamps and posters, inspired by her mentor Edward Bawden. Later she taught printmaking at the Royal College of Art. I love the confidence of the cut lines and the colours she's used.
What about that oil painting? Here's a sneaky look at the corner – subtle colours and a light touch . . .
Here's the signature . . .
Elena Gaussen Marks, she is still working as a portrait painter in London as Elena Gaussen, there's a water colour study of a similar composition on her web site. What I've found out about her is an intriguing story – for 34 years she was married to Leo Marks, if you haven't heard of him you will probably know a poem he wrote.
There are things I like about the painting – the soft colours of the background and the memories it resurrects in me of hours and hours of life classes at art school. And, in finding out more about the painter, I've discovered the amazing life story of Leo Marks . But 'the nudes' are for sale . . .
. . . let me know if you'd like to make me an offer, I'll let you know if I put them into another auction**.
* I asked the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden if they had any information about the Sheila Robinson Print. They have one in their collection dated 1963 – I can now see that is the date on this print. It is called 'Leaves' and the gallery staff are almost certain that Edward Bawden had the same print framed and hanging in his house.
** The nudes oil painting will be for sale in this auction on 22 September 2010.
Shadows and Reflections – Mathew Clayton
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