UNSEEN WORK BY MODERN BRITISH ARTIST MARK GERTLER EMERGES FROM PRIVATE COLLECTION AFTER 100 YEARS
Chorley’s auctioneers are thrilled to offer a publicly unseen, never before exhibited work by the great British artist Mark Gertler (1891-1939). The work, titled Still Life with Earthenware Vessel and Blue Ewer has been in the private collection of esteemed art connoisseur, Lt Colonel Murray “Victor” Burrow Hill, DSO, MC (1887-1986) for over 100 years. It is believed Victor may have acquired the work directly from the artist in the same year it was painted, which was during Gertler’s stay with fellow artists in France in 1922. It will be offered in a sale titled Fine Paintings, including the Victor Hill Collection of Modern British Art at Chorley’s auctioneers on December 5, 2022.
Commenting on the work, Chorley’s Director Thomas Jenner-Fust says: “We are delighted to be able to offer this previously unseen work by Mark Gertler, a unique and talented artist. The earthenware pitcher, blue enamel jug and stark white tablecloth, though atypical in Gertler’s work, beautifully captures the character of rustic French interiors of the period. The landscape glimpsed through a framed window and the softly painted diagonal strokes are typical of Gertler’s landscapes between 1919 and 1920.”
Gertler was born in Spitalfields, London, the youngest child of impoverished Polish Jewish immigrants. He took night classes in art at Regent Street Polytechnic, before winning a national art competition that would inspire him to apply for a scholarship from the Jewish Education Aid Society. On attaining it he was able to study at the esteemed Slade School of Art. Although highly accomplished and having several patrons, he spent much of his life juggling his finances and in mental despair. He suffered from depressive episodes triggered by his unrequited love for the English painter Dora Carrington (1893-1932), who he met at the Slade. He also had an unpredictable, slightly arrogant personality, which was often his downfall – after a visit to Virginia Woolfe in 1916, she exclaimed “Good God what an egoist”. Despite this, he was passionate about his craft and admired by many, including leading literary figures and was the subject of many characters in books, such as Gombauld in Aldous Huxley’s Crome Yellow and Loerke in D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. His modernist works were well-received, and he was considered a genius by some. His latter works however were more experimental – spatially flatter and with a greater emphasis on textures and surface patterns, causing interest to wane. Struggling to stay true to his artistic aspirations he committed suicide in 1939. The oil on canvas is estimated to fetch £6,000-£8,000 although, due to its emergence after so many years and never having been seen by the public, interest could push it higher.
In the same private collection is a study for the large-scale work Why Weren’t You Out Yesterday by the great British artist Sir Alfred Munnings (1878-1959). The smaller scale preparatory painting shows us first-hand, how the artist worked and gives us clues to the creative processes he went through to produce the finished masterpiece. Why Weren’t You Out Yesterday is considered one of Munnings’ most humorous paintings. It features his wife Violet, a family friend and four of his own horses. Painted in 1935 it was inspired by another portrait Munnings had seen, which showed some members of a prominent New Jersey family (a Mrs. Cutting and her daughters), which had amused him. He said: “So taken was I with the arrangement that I repeated almost the same design on another canvas for my own amusement.”
The work offers us the ‘inside track’ on how Munnings experimented in order to decide which elements worked well. Chorley’s Director Thomas Jenner-Fust relays: “In this study it is likely that Munnings would have painted the central hunter first, as the one to the right is a worked-up version, with reconsidered elements such as the angle of the head and twitch of the left ear, communicating the horse’s state of alert, both of which feature in the final painting. Spontaneity, immediacy, understanding and above all, enjoyment are apparent in this study. It also captures Munnings returning, as he did throughout his life, to two of his greatest passions; horses and hunting.” The work, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art in 1939 carries an estimate of £40,000-£60,000.
Also in Victor’s collection is a work by the Irish painter Roderic O’Conor (1860-1940). Born in Milltown in Ireland and brought up in Dublin, he studied at Ampleforth College and the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin, before venturing to Antwerp in 1883 to study at the Academie Royale. Like many artists at the time, he went on to Paris to study and after falling in love with France, he went on to spend much of his life there. He painted in Brittany amongst other regions, often with the Impressionist painters Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gaugin, who had a direct impact on his work.
The painting in the sale dates from circa 1902 and is in oil on canvas. Titled Le Loing at Sundown it references Montigny-sur-Loing, a small town outside of Paris. Highly popular with artists in the 19th century, they flocked to take advantage of painting the lush forest of Fontainebleau and the winding river, as well as to enjoy the camaraderie of fellow artists. O’Conor’s affection for the region meant that he returned several times in the mid-1890s, where he had good friends, many of whom were also artists.
O’Conor created a series of landscapes of serene views along the tree-lined river Loing and the present work is a fine example. Discussing the painting Thomas Jenner-Fust said: “To render the failing light he has deployed a palette of bright colours, including pink, purple and two different yellows, exaggerating the local colours of the scene itself. The derivation of this technique, still highly radical in 1902, reverts back to the artist’s precocious discovery of Vincent van Gogh (the expressionist gestures) and Paul Gauguin (the exotic palette) a decade earlier.” Described by the Irish Times as ‘The great forgotten Irish painter’2. O’Conor’s works are in many public collections around the globe, the painting carries an estimate of £40,000-£60,000.
Another exciting addition to Victor Hill’s collection was Roses in a Blue Vase by British painter Sir Matthew Smith, CBE (1879-1959). Yorkshire-born Smith studied at the Manchester School of Art and then the esteemed Slade School of Art. He also trained under Henri Matisse in Paris, where he gained an interest in Fauvism. Following his short-lived marriage to fellow artist Gwen Salmond (1877–1958), he was infamously in a relationship with the artist Vera Cunningham (1897-1955), who modelled for his nude works between 1923 and 1926. Invalided out of the army, Smith spent time in Aix-en-Provence, France. His work at the time was unnaturalistic in form and reflected the Fauves, with the use of vibrant, bold colours. His first solo exhibition is recorded as being at Tooth’s Gallery in London in 1926.
Discussing the work, Thomas tells us it was produced in 1927 in Smith’s studio in London and Victor Hill acquired the work for his collection by 1929. He says: “1927 saw the prolific production of a host of flower paintings by Smith, with ever increasing complexity of arrangements and compositions. Smith enjoyed collecting old vases and jugs for his still lifes, finding them in junk shops and second-hand shops in London, an activity he called ‘ferreting’. They played an important role in the flower pieces, providing interesting curvilinear shapes and strong colour.” Roses in a Blue Jug is a superb example from the middle of this period when things were going very well for Smith, as his work was selling, beginning to be reviewed in the art press and the prestigious Bond Street gallery Arthur Tooth & Sons became his dealer in 1928.” In oil on canvas, the painting is estimated to fetch £15,000-£20,000.