By Terry Ingram, on 20-Jun-2016

A newly discovered manuscript accompanied by 27 watercolours and drawings for a book by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite was offered at auction in London on June 15. But just little of the auction magic associated with artist in the past was missing when it went under the hammer.

In the parlance of books of this nature, it might have done much better "once upon a time". The lot sold for £27,500 (including buyer's premium) which was at the upper end of the estimates.

A newly discovered manuscript accompanied by 27 watercolours and drawings for a book by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite was offered at auction in London on June 15. But just little of the auction magic associated with artist in the past was missing when it went under the hammer.

Within the estimate of £20,000 to £30,000 a buyer could have secured no more than three Outhwaite watercolours in 1994 when enthusiasm for the artist's work suddenly became a fantasy.

Saleroom habitués will recall newsman Ken Cowley and Amber Dawson-Damer being named separately with another anonymous bidder as spending a combined $74,000 at Lawsons in Sydney for three of her watercolours. The late Neville Healy also bid on the works offered at that sale.

The record auction price for a single work is $50,400 paid for Long Long Thoughts in the sale of the Julian and Miriam Sterling Collection by Bonhams and Goodman in August 2008. At 32 x 23 cm it was bigger than the latest offerings which were 26 x 20 cm each.

The interest in Outhwaite (1888-1960) had begun to show itself in 1989 giving new heart to the children's book market which was losing its big corporate spender, James Hardie Industries, to the claims of asbestos sufferers.

The latest sale was held by Bonhams in its Knightsbridge rooms which may be a bit of a secret to some of the Australian clients of the New Bond Street headquartered auction house.

Inquirers at the viewing were told that the lot was offered in London because it had come by direct descent from the artist in the UK and that there was potential international interest, especially in America.

Her illustrations were exhibited in London and Paris in the 1930s as well as in Australia so it was decided not to send the work to Australia, where Bonhams has regular art auctions.

The catalogue estimates were supplied only in Sterling and Euros without reference to Australian dollars

Outhwaite's work stands proud outside the tradition of Australian traditional art, however, so the prices should not have been affected too much by the massive decline that has taken place in the prices of other artists’ work.

Cowley is no longer active in the market, but several strong buyers of women's art have emerged in the meantime who might be looking for examples of her work although the work is in its own very special category.

The title of the book for which the items in the lot were produced is Hoppity's House. The frog, Vanessa the Fairy, Sir Timothy Toad, the rabbit and Jiminy and Nosey the naughty brownie's happily appear.

The unpublished book is not mentioned in Michael Horgan's comprehensive on line bibliography and appears to have remained unknown until now.

Bonhams book sale cataloguer says it is rare to find Outhwaite illustrating her own text, although Horgan refers to one other unpublished manuscript, Fairyhouse, with text and illustrations also dating from 1930.

The story tells of Hoppity's being sacked from the frog chorus and deciding to build a house to take paying guests.

Sir Timothy arrives and hogs the food and fire and fairies have their wings glued together.

It all ends happily afterwards.

Sale Referenced: Fine Books, Manuscripts & Original Illustrations (Australian artists only), Bonhams, London, 15/06/2016

About The Author

Terry Ingram inaugurated the weekly Saleroom column for the Australian Financial Review in 1969 and continued writing it for nearly 40 years. His scoops include the Whitlam Government's purchase of Blue Poles in 1973 and repeated fake scandals (from contemporary art to antique silver) and auction finds. He has closely followed the international art, collectors and antique markets to this days. Terry has also written two books on the subjects

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