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Its doors may be closed but Stansted auction house Sworders is gearing up for online sales




The doors of Sworders' premises in Stansted may be closed, but the leading fine art auctioneer remains open for business online and is hopeful of some interesting 'barn finds' during the coronavirus lockdown.

The Cambridge Road company’s specialists still welcome photographs of potential consignments via email. Some fine objects have already been identified, valued and consigned for future sales.

“Although understandably we are unable to conduct person-to-person valuations at this time, as both our auction room in Stansted and our London and Hertford offices are closed, there is a lot our team of specialist valuers can do based on a few decent photographs taken on a smartphone,” says chairman Guy Schooling. All online valuations are free.

"Alien Baby – Rites of Passage", by Grayson Perry, is expected to fetch £4,000 to £6,000 in the Live Online Modern British Art auction on June 10 (34043867)
"Alien Baby – Rites of Passage", by Grayson Perry, is expected to fetch £4,000 to £6,000 in the Live Online Modern British Art auction on June 10 (34043867)

They are particularly interested in hearing from the many people currently engaged in a good old clear-out. Among the few positives to be gleaned from the stay-at-home lifestyle is the opportunity to complete tasks that fall down the list in normal times.

“People up and down the country are filling their time in semi-isolation with extra hours of gardening, a spot of DIY and a thorough spring clean of attics and outbuildings," said Mr Schooling. "We want to hear from them.”

Sworders is no stranger to the spectacular ‘barn find’.

"Alien Baby – Rites of Passage" was created by the Turner Prize-winning, Chelmsford-born artist for a couple whose sons were cared for by the neonatal unit at his birth city's Broomfield Hospital (33486811)
"Alien Baby – Rites of Passage" was created by the Turner Prize-winning, Chelmsford-born artist for a couple whose sons were cared for by the neonatal unit at his birth city's Broomfield Hospital (33486811)

In 2015, decorative arts specialist John Black received a snapshot of just the underside of a Victorian octagonal ebonised table as it lay in storage in a barn. It was water damaged and not easily accessible – "I had to jump over two fences, shuffle past donkeys and then squeeze into a damp stable to see it," he said – but he knew immediately it was a rare centre table designed by architect Edward Godwin (1833-86) for Collinson & Lock. It later sold for £31,000.

Earlier this year furniture specialist James Pickup found a very early piece of English furniture in a barn in Diss, Norfolk. A family of mice had taken up residency. The 15th-century elm and oak coffer later sold for £3,000.

Sworders remains confident in the art and antiques market despite the break in the auction calendar.

“Results at recent sales have underlined a robust demand for good quality and unusual art, antiques and collectables," said Mr Schooling. “I have no doubt that even in these undeniably difficult times, that is set to continue. Some great consignments are arriving and buyers remain confident and eager to transact, whenever that might be possible.”

A lace sample used by accessories designer Clive Shilton when making Princess Diana’s footwear for her wedding with Prince Charles in 1981 (33487919)
A lace sample used by accessories designer Clive Shilton when making Princess Diana’s footwear for her wedding with Prince Charles in 1981 (33487919)

Some interesting lots are set to appear, including a souvenir of Princess Diana's wedding shoes from her 1981 marriage to Prince Charles. Estimated at £100-£150, the lot is a sample of the lace used by celebrity accessories designer Clive Shilton when making Diana’s footwear and will feature in the Timed Online Accessories auction from May 15-19.

"Alien Baby – Rites of Passage", a ceramic sculpture by Grayson Perry, is estimated to fetch between £4,000 and £6,000. A unique work, it was created by the Turner Prize-winning, Chelmsford-born artist in response to the making of a four-part documentary for Channel 4. The sculpture was given by him to a couple whose sons were cared for by the neonatal unit at Chelmsford’s Broomfield Hospital and will form part of the Live Online Modern British Art auction on June 10.

The highest estimate is for "Gypsy Queen Caravans in a Sussex Meadow" by Cedric Morris (1889-1982), valued at £15,000-£20,000. It follows in the wake of Sworders’ new auction record of £204,160 for Morris. The dedication in the bottom right hand corner of the painting "to Phyllis from Cedric 1927" is to the vendor’s mother Phyllis Pitcairn Gage-Brown.

A collection of Chinese textiles, including an embroidered kesi red and black robe, could fetch £1,500 to £2,500 (33487889)
A collection of Chinese textiles, including an embroidered kesi red and black robe, could fetch £1,500 to £2,500 (33487889)

A collection of Chinese textiles, including an embroidered kesi red and black robe, could fetch £1,500 to £2,500.

These nine lots, part of the Live Online Asian Auction on May 28, have been consigned by descendants of a Victorian engineer who left Scotland in 1897 to work on the Chinese government railway. William Orr Leitch (1871-1948) became the engineer in chief of the project and later general manager of the Peking to Mukden railway line.

Drawings of East Anglian village life by Edward Bawden (1903-1989) are estimated at £1,500-£2,000. The two pen-and-ink studies created by one of the region’s best-known artists were for use in ‘The English Scene’, a diary and notebook published by textiles firm Morton Sundour Fabrics in 1955.


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