Norfolk in oils set to fetch £800,000

It is not instantly recognisable as a potential old master and its subject matter is hardly as famous as the Haywain.But this at first unassuming depiction of a quiet Norfolk village by a relatively unknown artist is set to fetch the best part of £1m at auction.

It is not instantly recognisable as a potential Old Master and its subject matter is hardly as famous as the Haywain.

But this at first unassuming depiction of a quiet Norfolk village by a relatively unknown artist could fetch the best part of £1m at auction.

Saxlingham Nethergate could soon be thrust into the limelight, thanks to the 60in-square landscape of Saxlingham Green painted by Michael Andrews in 1982 to celebrate 1,150 years of the village's history.

Entitled Sax AD 832, echoing the inscription on the village sign, Andrews painted it a year after moving there.

Now the canvas is set to fetch a world-record auction price for a work by the Norwich-born painter when it goes under the hammer at Christie's in London on June 20 as part of the renowned 20th-century British art collection of Elaine and Melvin Merians.

The current world best for an Andrews is £176,000, paid last year for his 1968 work Lights (Study of a Head) but the village landscape is estimated to realise £600,000 to £800,000.

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If it meets its reserve, the sale will promote Andrews, who died in 1995, to the higher echelons of British art at an auction which also includes pictures by such luminaries as Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, David Hockney and Peter Doig.

And while at first it might appear not particularly out of the ordinary, critics claim there is a depth to the painting as Andrews conveys a stillness unscarred by progress but littered with modern features like tarmac, telegraph poles and a telephone box.

Christie's head of department Peter Ordovas said: "These appear to be the erasable and transient marks of our era, temporary when compared to the monumental antiquity of Saxlingham Nethergate."

The view, which has remained the same since it was painted, could also soon see additions in the form of proposed wind turbines at Hempnall.

Teresa Stevens, editor of parish magazine Saxlingham Contact, said: "The picture is beautiful and captures perfectly the peace and tranquillity of Saxlingham Green which is a little apart from the main village of Saxlingham Nethergate. The people who live down there I have no doubt would love it.

"It is great to think that such a picture depicting a small country village can achieve such a high price."

Fellow villager John Cook is delighted Saxlingham has been celebrated in such a way.

"Both my wife and I think the painting is great," he said.

"It is a wonderful depiction of the Green, carrying an eerie stillness which has been captured perfectly by the artist. I think it an excellent legacy for future generations that the village has been immortalised in this way. Saxlingham Nethergate has been called the jewel in the south Norfolk crown. This painting goes a long way towards that."

Andrews was born and brought up in Norwich, the son of devout Methodists.

He took Saturday classes in oil painting before being accepted for London's Slade School of Fine Art in 1947 and later teaching there as well as at Chelsea School of Art.

But he moved back to his home county in 1981.

Discussing his decision to live in Saxlingham Nethergate, Andrews once said: "I like the antiquity of it. I was terribly affected by the fact we are living in a seventh-century village - a favourite century of mine."

On June 7, a painting of the countryside around Acle by Sir John Brown, who lived from 1866 to 1955, is estimated to fetch up to £20,000 at Christie's while three pictures by Colin Burns, born in 1944, depicting scenes at Blakeney, Cley and Burnham Overy Staithe, are estimated at between £3,500 and £6,000 each.

Star lots at the Merians Collection sale on June 20, which features School of London painters, are Francis Bacon's Two Men Working in a Field, dated 1971 and estimated to fetch up to £7m, and Lucian Freud's 1992 portrait of Bernard Leach estimated to reach £4.5m to £5.5m.

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