The top lot in a Surrey auctioneer’s recent three-day winter fine art sale was a controversial 19th-century watercolour of a couple embracing, one from the Passion series of 1892 by Dutch artist Floris Arntzenius (1864-1925).
The intimate series of pictures, inspired by contemporary novel Een Passie by Maurits Wagenvoort, reportedly caused a furore when it was first exhibited, and rarely come to market. The rare work, for sale at Ewbank’s, piqued the interest of buyers and the piece saw a final price of £13,000, well beating its initial estimate.
A portrait from the English School, dated 1612, was another piece which saw huge interest from collectors. The oil portrait, of Mrs Smyth and her young son, almost certainly depicts the wife and son of John Smyth (1567-1641), historian and author of The Berkeley Manuscript, and realised a final price of £5,460.
The Manuscript details the lives of people that Smyth himself would have known and is credited with providing an extraordinary insight to the lives and times of the 1500s and 1600s. Smyth also completed two other important works: The Lives of the Berkeleys and Men and Armour for Gloucestershire in 1608.
Smyth wrote the manuscripts for the Berkeley family who retain their seat at Berkeley Castle to this day, in an unbroken line of more than 850 years.
The child in this portrait is John Smyth the Younger (1611-92), who followed his father as steward of the Gloucestershire lands of Lord Berkeley and continued his practice of writing and archiving papers. The inscription above the child’s head in the portrait notes that he is pictured in his first year, which tallies with the 1612 date inscribed opposite.
A second or third impression print, with pencil annotations, by Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) of calligrapher Lieven Willemsz Van Coppenol sold for £3,640.
Other lots of note included a watercolour by British artist James Holland (1799-1870) entitled Genoa, dating from 1868, which went for £2,080; and an oil portrait of an army officer, attributed to British artist Robert Walker (1607-1658) realised at £2,080.