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A Colorful Day For The The Scottish Colourists

March 19, 2021
flowers in a vase with fruit on a table

Sanuel Peploe – Carnations and Ranunculus

On the 17th of March, Sotheby’s presented a group of works by the Scottish Colourists from the Harrison collection – all of the paintings were acquired by Major Ion Harrison almost 100 years ago.

Some of you might be wondering, who were the Scottish Colourists? Simply put, they were four artists – Francis Cadell, John Duncan Fergusson, Leslie Hunter, and Samuel Peploe. Their Post-Impressionist style of the 1920s and 30s would have a significant influence on future Scottish artists. (unless otherwise noted, all sold prices include the buyer’s premium)

flowers in a vase

Francis Cadell’s Carnations

Taking the top spot was lovely still life by Peploe titled Carnations and Ranunculus. This 20 x 16-inch work was estimated at £250-350K and sold for £560K ($780K). Francis Cadell’s Carnations (12 x 9 inches) made £499K ($695K) on a £120-180K estimate, and Peploe’s Street in Cassis brought £353K ($491K) on a £100-150K estimate. Rounding out the top five were Cadell’s Tree and Houses on the French Riviera at £202K ($281K – est. £60-80K) and George Leslie Hunter’s The Harbour, Villefranche at £164K ($228K – est. £60-80K).

village street scene

Samuel Peploe – Street in Cassis

A few lots did not find buyers, but those works were not among the best — at least from my online observations. Maybe it was just a matter of the best items sold, and the others will find takers another day … when they are not competing against better examples.

The session was a short one as the sale included just 24 works. Of those, 19 sold, giving them a sell-through rate of 79% (not bad). The presale estimate range was £1.39 – £1.98M, and the total take was £2.67M ($3.7M). Of the 19 sold works, 5 were below, 5 within, and 9 above their presale estimates. When we factor in the unsold lots, this left them with an accuracy rate of 20.8%. Happily, for the sellers, about 38% of the sale sold above their range.

As some might know, the presale estimate range does not include the buyer’s premium. Since almost none* of the estimates in this sale exceeded £300K (that is when the 26% premium drops to 20%), it was easy to add that into the numbers. So, with the buyer’s premium, the presale range was £1.75-2.5M (*one lot had a high estimate of £350K, which means that upper end range has an extra £3,000 due to my basic math*). That means that their total take of £2.67M beat the estimate.

To give you a little more insight into the market for these artists, the current auction record for a Peploe is £903K/$1.53M (that happened in 2014, and the piece was estimated to bring £300-500K). Cadell reached £874K/$1.17M (est. £400-600K) in 2018. George Hunter’s Still Life with Tulips and Oranges made £433K/$634K in 2009, and Fergusson’s Poise brought £639K/$1M in 2014 – that one carried an £80-120K estimate.

I think this sale is an excellent example of a few things we often talk about. First, the material should be fresh to the market. Since all of these works have been in the same family’s collection for close to a century, we can call them fresh! Second, the estimate must be realistic. Third, the painting’s condition is a significant factor – and most of these lots were in excellent condition. And finally, too much of the same material will impact the overall results – the fact that there were 24 paintings from the same school of art created an issue for the less than stellar examples.