Bonhams' East Anglian art auction

Ian Collins An annual auction of East Anglian art and artefacts is a perfect antidote to the gloom and doom of current news, Ian Collins argues.

Ian Collins

Two centuries ago, Norwich School artists were turning from the horrors of their day - hunger, disease, crippling labour, rural revolt and press-ganging into the Napoleonic wars - to paint paradise on their doorsteps.

I'm now following their excellent example and blotting out the wide and woeful worlds of finance, economics and politics by basking in the bliss of art and artefacts from our region.

The annual Bonham's East Anglian View auction is almost upon us again, and lately I have been savouring more than 200 lots of local interest in both the printed and on-line catalogues.

Lots of local interest indeed - spilling across oil paintings, watercolours, drawings, prints, maps, books, ceramics and clocks. All celebrate the special appeal of, and skills in, our eastern counties over three or more centuries.

How poignant the bucolic idyll portrayed by Norwich School master George Vincent in the lovely oil panel entitled Norfolk river scene, with a pre-sale estimate of £4,000-£6,000. Possibly it was painted during his two-year spell in London's Fleet prison for debtors in the mid-1820s. Afterwards the artist enjoyed only five years of freedom before his death at the age of 36 - and yet he left us with pictures of perfect timelessness.

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Two little gems by second-generation Norwich School artists also caught my eye - Thomas Lound's Figures before a cottage on the Yare, Norwich (£1,500-£2,000) and the aptly-named Henry Bright's ravishing oil sketch Figures and boats on a beach at sunset (£700-£900).

Amid many alluring images of birds and broads and beaches, there is a large and brilliant 1920s poster (£600-£800) by Cambridge's Steven Spurrier, a painter and illustrator who designed the cover for the first edition of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons. The colourful advert commissioned by the London and North East Railway company for 'The Broads - 200 Miles of Safe Inland Waterways'- offered 'Holidays Afloat £4 per Week'. These bargain breaks could be booked via a Norfolk Broads Bureau in the City of London.

There's a cracking little Edward Seago oil called River Yare, Norwich - a misty, murky scene in which his native city has an elemental beauty but a hint of industrial dereliction might also suggest a location close to Lowry's Salford. It's yours for as little as £3,000.

A similar sum might secure one of Maggi Hambling's summer sunrises on the Orwell Estuary evoked in flickering and flaming oil paints.

The antithesis of such drama is to be found in the quiet greens of Colin Self's masterly 1970s study of How Hill Watergarden, tipped to sell for £500-£800.

But for sheer romance - and artistic talent - my eye was drawn to a pair of exquisite pictures. The first, by Claughton Pellew, shows the north Norfolk village of Trunch around 1930 - evoked in golden hues as if in the enchantment of a fairytale. That could fetch as much as £4,000. And its companion piece, a watercolour called The Lane, by Kechie Tennent shows a rural paradise persisting in that remote location as late as 1961 (£1,000-£1,500).

Claughton Pellew was a gentle mystic whose reverence for the countryside had a deep impact on fellow students at London's Slade school, particularly Paul Nash and Emma Marie “Kechie” Tennent. A conscientious objector to the first world war, he endured popular derision and forced labour on Dartmoor. Release brought marriage to Kechie and escape to Norfolk. They bought a triangular plot of land between Southrepps and Trunch and built a house called The Pightle.

Here the couple effectively hid out for the rest of their lives - with Claughton in particular depicting a windswept landscape of bent trees and hedged fields still worked by plough-teams.

Poor Claughton Pellew. While waiting at Gunton station during the second world war he was arrested as a spy - for the crime of receiving a letter in German. His genius was to have spied that a quiet corner of East Anglia was actually an outpost of Eden.

t Bonhams' East Anglian View sale is at The Athenaeum in Bury St Edmunds from 11am on October 30. Viewing: October 28 9am-6pm, October 29 9am-5pm and October 30 9am-11am; www.bonhams.com