Footsteps of the Past | A Private Collection

Footsteps of the Past | A Private Collection

Ahead of our 4 April Old Master, British & European Art Sale, specialist, Jane Oakley shares an insight into an extensive single-owner collection.

9 March 2023

It is always a pleasure as an auctioneer to handle a single owner collection. We gain a unique insight into the owner’s character and interests, and items that might on their own seem insignificant, make much more sense as part of a larger whole. This collection was assembled over many years by a well-travelled private individual, it includes a variety of topographical works of places that were of interest to them – most noticeably of Israel and Palestine, but also of northern France and their home in London. Together with some still lifes and figure studies. They have predominantly chosen to collect works on paper. While watercolours don’t always have the punch of an oil painting, they possess a subtlety and delicacy that can be quite arresting and to many collectors, this understatement is much more rewarding than the bright daubs of an oil painting.

David Roberts RA RBA (1796-1864) Jaffa £20,000-£30,000

David Roberts RA RBA (1796-1864) 'Jaffa' £20,000-£30,000

From the Grand tour onwards, the watercolour, by dint of its portability, became the medium of choice for the topographical artist and there is a great tradition particularly amongst British artists  of painting landscapes in watercolour. For the collector, the small dimensions of watercolours allow a greater number of works to be hung in a single space. This creates an eclectic mix of styles and subjects, ensuring there is always something fresh to catch the eye - and always room for the latest acquisition to find a spot. Generally speaking, watercolours tend to be of a more modest value than their oil equivalent and this means buyers really can get exceptional quality for a more affordable price. The delicacy of the medium dictates that the artist possess immense skill to execute them and this, in itself, is appealing to the collector – appreciating the draughtsmanship and precision.

Edward Lear (1812-1888) 'Hebron', figures and camels, the city beyond, c.1858 £5,000-£8,000

Edward Lear (1812-1888) 'Hebron', figures and camels, the city beyond, c.1858 £5,000-£8,000

Europeans were fascinated by the Orient; the colourful costumes, customs, and animals that populated the region, together with the impressive architecture and ancient monuments situated on hugely significant biblical sites. One of the pioneers of this orientalist movement in the 19th century is David Roberts RA (1796-1864) whose famous journey to Egypt and The Holy Land of 1838-9 inspired a generation of intrepid artists to venture east in his wake, in search of the exotic. Roberts’s watercolour of Jaffa, probably painted on the spot, would have been a subject rarely if ever seen before by the British public. Estimated at  £20,000-30,000, it is a rare opportunity to purchase such an important topographical painting from this early date. Hot on Roberts’s heels some 10 years later was Edward Lear (1812-1888) (lot 230) who visited Egypt and the Holy Land in the late 1840s. The artist, illustrator and poet produced a huge number of dexterous on the spot sketches during his travels which took him as far as India. No doubt often the work of a few minutes’ work, they are skilful pen and ink studies, highlighted with economical touches of watercolour and white, with not a mark out of place or in need of correction, such was Lear’s talent.

Jozef Israëls (Dutch,1824-1911) Returning from the fields £2,000-£3,000

Henry Andrew Harper (1835-1900) Jerusalem £700-1,000 (Top) & Jozef Israëls (Dutch,1824-1911) Returning from the fields £2,000-£3,000 (Bottom)

Other highlights of the collection include an extensive view across the desert by Albert Goodwin (1845-1932) entitled 'The Cities of the Plain', inscribed with words from Genesis 'And Lot pitched his tent towards Sodom' and ‘Return from the fields’, a beautifully observed watercolour of a peasant woman pushing her child through the fields in a wheel barrow by the Dutch artist Jozef Israëls (1824-1911) .

A selection of lots are on view at our London gallery until 24 March. 

To find out more about lots in this collection click here

For further information regarding our upcoming 4 April Old Master, British & European Art Sale, please contact 




Recent News


The Collection of the late Rosemary and Theo Cutting

During the Cuttings' custodianship, one might have been forgiven for thinking they had stumbled into an Italian palazzo upon entering The Old Bakehouse, Whepstead, for the first time. In what looked like a humble dwelling from the outside, Theo and Rosemary collected and arranged an impressive collection of fine furniture and works of art from the 17th to 19th centuries, creating a luxurious and elegant home that they shared for some sixty-five years.

20 May 2024

Capturing Strength and Spirit | The Artistry of the Sancai Glazed Horse

The highlight of the upcoming Asian Art auction is undoubtedly the magnificent sancai-glazed pottery horse from the Tang dynasty (618-907). 

14 May 2024

European Ceramics from the Collection of Hermann Baer (1898-1977)

Sworders feel privileged to be entrusted to disperse this select group of items from the deeply cherished personal collection of the late Hermann Baer (1898-1977), including antique Italian maiolica and German faience.

8 May 2024



Get Sworders News