Often the first thing we assess when contemplating the value of a picture is the artist but, when it comes to portraiture, the identity of the sitter can have also a profound impact on value.
A recent portrait sold in Cheffins’ Art and Design sale was the perfect demonstration of this. The painting was by Vivienne Gribble (1888-1932), an artist with a very limited track record at auction and primarily known as a printmaker. However, the oil on canvas depicted the famous artist and plantsman Sir Cedric Lockwood Morris (1889-1992), who himself taught Gribble. Whilst a portrait of an unknown sitter by Gribble would’ve likely been valued at under £1,000, the identity of Morris and his personal connection to the artist justified a higher estimate of £7,000-10,000 which was ultimately supported by a hammer price of £9,500.
Lot 292, John Hoppner, a Portrait of Sir John Morris
The forthcoming December Fine Sale contains another portrait with a connection to Cedric Morris of a much earlier date. Traditionally thought to depict the Swansea copper and coal magnate Sir John Morris, 1st Baronet of Clasemont (1745-1819), the oil on panel (Lot 272) by John Hoppner RA (1758-1810) has recently been re-identified by Cheffins’ Old Master department as being more likely to depict his son, also John, 2nd Baronet (1775-1855).
Like his father, the younger John continued the family copper smelting business and held the positions of Sheriff of Glamorgan and Portreeve (Mayor) of Swansea. In the early 1820s, he had built Sketty Park House which would later be the birthplace of Cedric Morris, his great-grandson and 9th Baronet of Clasemont.
Though John Hoppner portrait carries the same estimate to the previously sold portrait of Cedric Morris (£7,000-10,000), the value here is conversely based mainly on the identity of the artist. Hoppner is considered to be one of the finest portrait painters of his time, famed for his ability to capture the likeness of a sitter with great freedom and bravura brushwork, painting directly in oils without prior preparatory work. Hoppner’s lively technique was perfectly suited to portraying the dashing young John Morris and it is this combination of artist and stylish subject that is likely to appeal to a range of potential buyers. However, the sitter’s relationship to Cedric Morris is likely to help draw further interest and will increase the picture’s desirability among not only traditional portrait afficionados, but also fans of Morris himself.
Lot 290, Marion Margaret Violet Manners, Duchess of Rutland, a Portrait of Norah Mary Madeleine Lindsay
Finally, a portrait drawing in the December sale (Lot 290) looks sure to attract good interest equally due to both its artist and sitter. It is executed by Marion Margaret Violet Manners, Duchess of Rutland (1856-1937), a noted beauty who herself was painted by famous artists such as James Jebusa Shannon and George Frederic Watts. Despite having no formal artistic training, she was a skilled artist who developed a refined technique which contemporaries deemed “particularly suited to the interpretation of feminine beauty and elegance”.
Indeed, this portrait (one of several by the Duchess in the sale) gracefully depicts in profile Norah Mary Madeleine Lindsay (née Bourke, 1873-1948). Like Cedric Morris, Norah Lindsay was a keen horticulturalist. Born into an Anglo-Irish military family at Ootacamund, India, the sitter married Sir Harry Lindsay, the Duchess of Rutland’s brother. She honed her gardening skills at her wedding gift, Sutton Courtenay Manor, Oxfordshire, creating a celebrated garden that influenced her lifelong friend, Vita-Sackville West. In 1924, after the collapse of her marriage, she embarked on a professional career as a garden designer. Her connections amongst the social elite led to many significant commissions and she influenced, advised and worked on a number of notable gardens including those at Blickling Hall, Cliveden and Hidcote Manor.
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