December is one of the best months for finding reasonably priced works of art as the London galleries gear up for Christmas. Many put on special exhibitions which their clients look forward to, and even queue up for. Others mount shows of their most popular artists which sell out in the pre-Christmas rush. It is a marvellous time for browsing; desperate present shoppers take heart: prices can start from as little as £25 and there is a huge variety on offer for under £1,000.
o Chris Beetles annual illustrators’ exhibition is back with a thicker and more impressive catalogue than ever. Children are especially welcome and throughout the opening weekend coffee and croissants are served. Over 800 drawings are offered with prices starting from as little as £65 for an original pen and ink illustration to Thomas the Tank Engine and range up to several thousand for illustrations to Winnie the Pooh or Beardsley’s elegant drawings for the Bon Mots series. This show is truly a delight with something for everyone, be it a whimsical fairy piece, a Punch cartoon or a Rowlandson at his most bawdy.
o Another perennial favourite is Abbot and Holder’s exhibition of “Six hundred watercolours and drawings for Christmas”. Prices start at £25 for a small Victorian pencil sketch and range up to £600. Most of the works are unframed and new works are put out each day as others are sold. The gallery stores up things all year and among those on offer this year are Ronald Searle’s illustrations to Dick Dead, a group of marine drawings by W.T.M. Hawksworth and John White Abbott’s group of pen and ink figure drawings of rustic scenes.
o The New Grafton Gallery present their show of smaller paintings. There will be over fifty artists taking part, a mixture of established names such as Ivor Hitchens, Elizabeth Frink, Mary Fedden and Ken Howard, as well as younger promising painters.
o For the first time this year the Portal Gallery will also mount a similar exhibition, “The little picture show”, with prices from £300 to £2,500. Gallery artists have been asked to paint two or three pictures to a 10 x 8 inch or 12 x 10 inch format. There will be works by Beryl Cook, John Byrne and Mick Rooney.
o Llewellyn Alexander hold an exhibition of paintings priced between £100 and £250. Clients can remove their paintings immediately, and the walls are constantly rehung. For the second half of the month they have an exhibition of the paintings of Edna Bizon, an extremely popular artist, whose still-lifes are reminiscent of Dutch Old Masters.
o Colnaghi’s Christmas exhibition of Old Master drawings is another favourite. Reinstated two years ago, it has proved enormously popular. Prices range from £500 to £10,000, showing that Old Master drawings need not be prohibitively expensive. Most of the seventy-six works are of the French and Italian Schools from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century. There are some well known names: a view of the Rialto by Giacomo Guardi, a genre study by Guercino and fine drawings by Dutch artists Abraham Bloemaert and Pieter Monincx. The show also includes some charming sketches, such as a study of a sleeping cat by Bolognese artist Flaminio Torre and various costume designs.
o Duncan Campbell has a mixed show of gallery artists and recent acquisitions, with prices starting from £200 and running up to £12,000. The exhibition includes British art from the turn of the century, the highlight being an early Paul Maze oil of the harbour at Dieppe, as well as still-lives by Vanessa Gardiner from the collection of Dame Iris Murdoch.
o At a higher price-level, Connaught Brown show Post-Impressionist and Modern master paintings priced from £5,000 to £250,000. This exhibition features works by Chagall, Degas, Picasso and Signac, as well as the Scandinavian artists Peter Ilsted and Carl Holsoe. Fresh to the market is a dramatic portrait of Isabelle Rivière, sister of the writer Alain Fournier, by Andre Lhote.
o Engraving was the means by which Victorian artists reached a wide public and achieved fame and status and the art of engraving reached new technical heights. While Victorian paintings have become extremely popular, engravings of the paintings are now less valued and relatively inexpensive; ironically, the huge size of some of the print runs made fortunes for both publishers and artists with the talented engraver earning only a humble fee. An exhibition at the Maas Gallery shows how these prints were made. These works cost between £650 and £4,800, depending on condition and rarity.
o Lumley Cazalet mount a major Matisse print show. Most of the works originate from the artist’s family and there are some very rare works among them, for example, a lithograph self-portrait of 1923. The show also includes the only two colour prints Matisse ever made, “Marie-Rose en robe jaune” of 1950 and “La danse”, an aquatint based on the first version of the mural now in the Barnes Foundation. Prices range from £4,000 to £100,000, but the gallery also carries a stock of Matisse prints starting at £500.
o Decorative arts shows also provide great hunting ground for Christmas presents. The Piers Feetham Gallery puts on a show titled “The artist as decorator”. Normally devoted to contemporary painting, this month the gallery is given over to textiles, ceramics and other objects for display. Prices are kept as low as possible from £20 to several hundreds and there is often a queue for the opening with some serious elbow-barging for the most popular pieces. There are works by Charleston-inspired potters Vicky Walton and Cressida Bell. Also in Charleston mood are Cressida Bell’s printed scarves and shawls. Carolinda Tolstoy makes eye-catching Persian and Russian-motif inspired majolica and Natasha Lafflin creates paintings out of tin which are cut and painted into small stage sets.
o Contemporary Applied Arts also offer a great range of ceramics, furniture, glass, jewellery and textiles in their Christmas exhibition. Mike Abbot and Kim Ellwood’s clock with an array of kinetic creatures is available at £2,500, but prices start at under £30 for hand-painted silk ties by Neil Bottle or Catherine Hough’s translucent glassware.
o The Fine Art Society has an expanded its annual Christmas crafts show this year to include both young and established artists invited to show alongside the firm’s regular exhibitors. “Art for Christmas” has hand bags by Emily Jo Gibbs, Natasha Kerr’s photographic textiles, a wide range of jewellery and silver, Japanese inspired bowls by Chris Keenan and Hylton Nel’s humorous painted plates.
o Carpet specialist David Black has an exhibition of contemporary kilims and carpets using natural dyes. Made in rural Turkish villages, the carpets are woven into stunningly simple designs. Prices start from £500 and carpets can be ordered to fit a specific colour scheme.
o Gordon Reece, the specialist in African works of art, holds an exotic exhibition that includes Gabbeh rugs, Borneo Ikats, South Indian charlot carvings, Vietnamese baskets, and a wide range of jewellery ranging from Tuareg necklaces and Ethiopian silver crosses to Omani silver rings with prices from £30-£5,000.
o If you have been inspired by the “Art of Bloomsbury” at the Tate Gallery, you will be taken with the Bloomsbury Workshop exhibition of Omega workshop ceramics and textiles, and paintings and drawings by Vanessa Bell and Leonora Carrington. Prices range from £350 to £1,250
o Sir Terry Frost exhibits “Millennium discs” at Whitford Fine Art. These brightly coloured, hand blown discs were executed in Murano to Frost’s designs while he was in Venice for the Biennale. Resembling giant lollipops, they reflect the vibrant spirals which have appeared in Frost’s work ever since the early reliefs of 1951-52.
o “Millennium mugs” go on show at Galerie Besson. In the ancient spirit of commemorative pottery, sixty-one leading international potters have been asked to design a mug to celebrate the millennium. Gallery director Anita Besson was so excited by the results that she is trying to sell the complete collection to a museum. If she is unsuccessful they will be sold off individually in January. To keep the show a surprise she is not giving away advance information on individual pieces, but this promises to be a unique show, capturing the essence of the ceramic movement at the turn of the century.
o Wolsey Fine Arts also organise a group show, this time not in response to the millennium, but to the writing of the painter-poet, David Jones who died twenty-five years ago. Thirty contemporary letter cutters and calligraphers have responded to his writings with a group of works of art designed for display in the house or garden. The works both introduce Jones’ writings to a wider public and demonstrate the huge variety of contemporary talent in this often over looked area.
o Other galleries mount single artist shows, but with reasonably priced works of art with the Christmas market in mind. The O’Shea Gallery have another exhibition of the popular “Tottering-by-gently”, Country Life cartoonist Annie Tempest. The exhibition launches twenty-four new prints featuring the ubiquitous Dicky and Daffy as well as a large selection of recent watercolour cartoons including those on which the prints were based.
o Rafael Valls show the travel and botanical paintings of Victoria Messel, a cousin of theatre designer Oliver Messel. Victoria has a studio at the family home, Nymans, in West Sussex, recently given to the National Trust, and has just painted the collection of rare plants both at Nymans and at Birr Castle in Southern Ireland. Prices range from £250 to £2,000 for these attractive watercolours of sunny Mediterranean views, tulips, water irises and camellias.
o In a similarly relaxed mood, although very different in style, are Nigel Ashcroft’s unpretentious watercolours at Frost & Reed. Priced from £1,000 to £2,000, these are scenes of sunny street corners in the Dordogne, rowing boats on the beach, or sun-lit doorways.
o The Redfern Gallery have an exhibition of recent landscapes and still-lifes by Sarah Armstrong-Jones. Priced from £500 to £5,000, these works develop the themes of atmospheric landscapes, capturing the spirit rather than the topography, of the scene and her still-lifes glow with intense colour and luscious paint.
o Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox present their bi-annual Christmas exhibition of painting by Diana Baer, wife of Hazlitt’s well known director, Sir Jack Baer. Sir Jack describes his wife as “a self-taught Sunday painter, who is actually frightfully good”. Her charming watercolour still-lifes of fruit and vegetables all measure 12 x 18 inches, and, priced at £250, the show is always a sell out.
o Painter-traveller Anthony Fry shows recent work images from India at Browse & Darby. Fry is a great nephew of the Bloomsbury artist Roger Fry and began his travels after winning the Rome Scholarship while at Camberwell School of Art in 1950. For the last eight years he has spent the winter months in South India. His lyrical jewel-like paintings, with their brilliant colours, record incidents from Indian daily life. Prices start at £2,000.