L ooking at paintings on the walls of a gallery or museum you can see the obvious – the painted surface, exactly as the artist intended. But behind, on the reverse, often lurks another world – the unseen or hidden side of the painting.
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF LORD & LADY ATTENBOROUGH. CHRISTOPHER WOOD, GOLDFISH, 1929. ESTIMATE £20,000–30,000.
Looking at a painting in an auction is the perfect opportunity to examine and explore the reverse – the labels written by artists, galleries, collectors and museums, giving the story and history since its inception. But occasionally the reverse of a canvas, sheet of paper or board reveals an entirely new work of art – a secret work, often missed, overlooked or forgotten by those that own it. These discoveries reveal a great deal - not only about the work itself - but also about the artists and the period in which the work was made.
THE REVERSE OF THE GOLDFISH.
It was with a great sense of excitement that we found a painting on the reverse of The Goldfish, a Christopher Wood painting that features in our 23 November sale of Modern & Post-War British Art, from the collection of Lord & Lady Attenborough. But what made the discovery even more exciting was the inclusion of another work by the artist, from a completely different collection, but featuring an almost identical ‘sister’ subject matter, that of anemones in a glass jar.
CHRISTOPHER WOOD, ANEMONES IN A GLASS JAR, 1925. ESTIMATE £70,000–100,000.
To view the reverse of The Goldfish, next to Anemones in a Glass Jar you are struck with just how similar the compositions are – clearly painted around the same date, with similar if not identical flowers, in the same rounded glass jar and executed with the same painterly Cézanne-like brushwork.
CHRISTOPHER WOOD ON A CORNISH BEACH, 1928. PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN.
It was certainly not an uncommon practise for artists to reuse a canvas in the early part of the twentieth century – and this was something that Wood’s close friend Winifred Nicholson frequently did. Wood was also known to scrape down a painted canvas, to re-paint directly over the composition with a totally different scene or still life. Canvases were expensive and often not easy to come by, even for Wood, who came from a relatively wealthy background, so materials were used and re-used for the sake of easy and economy.
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED BRITISH COLLECTION. CHRISTOPHER WOOD, LILIES IN A DECORATED BOWL, 1928. ESTIMATE £70,000–100,000.
Anemones were a particular favourite when it came to flowers for Wood, and a subject that he painted on various occasions, alongside others, including lilies. With the anemones he captures the gently lilting stems and large, bulbous heads, peeling back to reveal the deep black corolla at the centre. Anemones in a Glass Jar was painted in 1925, whilst The Goldfish, formerly in the collection of Wood’s important patron Lucy Wertheim, was painted in 1929, a year before the artist took his life at Salisbury train station. Wood clearly made use of a canvas that was lying around his studio – either a composition he was not satisfied with, or one that he had been unable to exhibit or sell.
Bringing the two paintings back together again, possibly for the first time since the 1938 exhibition that both works were featured in, you can see not only Wood’s deep love for his floral subject matter, but also his incredible skill at embodying his flower paintings with an energy and sense of character that belies the supposed ‘stillness’ of the subjects.
The Modern & Post-War British Art sale is in London on 22 and 23 November.
Join us for an afternoon of talks ahead of the sale at New Bond Street on Sunday 20 November.
Author of Julian Trevelyan: Picture Language; With book signing
Author of Picasso: A Private Collection
Illustrated by Mary Fedden; Read by Sheila Hancock
Author of the Drawings of Barbara Hepworth
Please contact us to reserve your place at firstname.lastname@example.org