In Focus: Female Artists at Sotheby’s Made In Britain

Today saw another successful ‘Made in Britain’ auction at Sotheby’s on London’s New Bond Street, with sales combining to reach a total of £2,481,753. Of this, just under a fifth was realised by works by female artists. Highlights include Small Oval Bowl by Lucie Rie which sold for £9,370, three times its estimate, Bridget Riley’s Sideways which achieved £2,500 and Beryl Cook’s somewhat alarmingly garish Nude’s Birthday realising £32,500. We look at three scenes of interest by female British artists which today shined at the auction.

A promising early Wilhelmina Barns-Graham ‘View of St. Ives Harbour’, executed the year she arrived in Cornwall, sold for £4,000. The swathes of gouache and watercolour against sharp ink lines create a harmonious scene, conjuring up life by the Cornish coast. The work is a real ModBrit time capsule, taking us in time to a progressive, internationally minded moment in St. Ives whilst depicting its famous bay in a style close to that of the Neo-Romanticism of someone like Minton. A piece well sold.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham,  View of St. Ives Harbour,  1940.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, View of St. Ives Harbour, 1940.

Winifred Nicolson,  Arab Roses,  1971

Winifred Nicolson, Arab Roses, 1971


Winifred Nicholson made two painting trips to North Africa, once in 1969 to Tunisia and once in 1971 to visit several northern African cities and places, from Marrakech to Barbary Coast. Seeing her still-life painting ‘Arab Flowers’, executed in Spring 1971, the influence of her visits is evident. The warm colours together with the tiling on both the floor and table brings you into the heat of an African day. The contrast of the flowers’ curved petals against the geometric patterns on the tiles exposes the clash between two cultural styles. This vibrant work sold for £25,000, proof that its interest is well appreciated.

Mary Fedden provides another example of an artist who travelled extensively throughout her lifetime, incorporating elements from her experiences of foreign places into her oeuvre. With her husband, the artist Julian Trevelyan, Fedden would take her easel to record the scenes she encountered. Elements of Matisse and Braque’s influence is highly suggested in the flat mountainsides and block colours in Tuscan Landscape II, a delicate oil on board painting which today achieved £15,000.

Mary Fedden,  Tuscan Landscape II , 1952.

Mary Fedden, Tuscan Landscape II, 1952.

The continuing increase in acknowledgement of the importance of women artists’ contribution to modern British art is reflected in today’s sale. After the incredible achievements of the likes of Jenny Saville and Rebecca Warren at auction earlier this month, this year proves so far to be a great success for female British artists, modern and contemporary alike. There is, however, still a long way to go, as is clear when comparing auction prices of such artists to that of their male contemporaries.

British Art Fair