Although his prints are more numerous, C.R.W. Nevinson’s First World War oil paintings rarely come on the market—most are in private or institutional collections. But, almost 50 years after it was last sold at Sotheby’s in 1964, A Dawn (1914) returns to the auction house, estimated at £700,000-£1m in the Modern & post-war British art sale on 21 November. A stylised, driving mass of French soldiers marching through Flanders, the work is typical of the British artist’s Vorticist period between 1914 and 1916 and was first exhibited at Nevinson’s well-known 1916 solo show at the Leicester Galleries.
A Dawn is one of nine works in the sale from a house in Hampstead, north London, and although the collectors are anonymous, they were closely involved in the art world. The work has been in their collection since they bought from the Sotheby’s sale in 1964.
Last year, Sotheby’s made a world record for Nevinson when a small 1916 pastel study for French Troops Resting, a painting now in the Imperial War Museum, sold for £473,000 (with fees). The £700,000-£1m estimate on A Dawn is, therefore, strong, but Matthew Travers, director of London gallery Piano Nobile, thinks it is justified. “Nevinson’s war oils never come up and in quality and style this is arguably on a par with anything in the Imperial War Museum and as good as La Mitrailleuse in the Tate,” Travers says. “The marching mass relates very closely to his lithographs. If a small pastel can make nearly half a million, then up to a million for an oil isn’t that crazy.”