The Fine Art Society is a haven not only from the noise and glitz of London’s Bond Street but from life itself. To enter its portals is to be transported to a world from another era; its hushed galleries decked with tranquil, often pastoral scenes are an opportunity for quiet reflection.
This June, a portrait of the Dalai Lama (Compassion, second picture) goes on show there. The lenticular photograph hanging on the second floor of the building is the work of Chris Levine and is one of six editions of pictures being sold (for between £60,000 and 80,000) to raise money for charities working with communities affected by last year’s earthquakes in Nepal.
The picture is part of an exhibition (Monday June 6 to Thursday July 7) of over 50 works – taken from The Fine Art Society’s 1,000-strong stock by mainly British 19th- and 20th-century artists – to mark the celebration of the gallery’s 140th anniversary.
Described as “the best shop in London” by Walter Sickert (whose painting Tipperary,£135,000,is one of three works by the artist for sale in this exhibition), The Fine Art Society once attracted such large crowds to the most popular shows of the 19th century that the traffic in Bond Street was brought to a standstill. Established in 1876 by a group of art lovers, some of whose descendants are now shareholders in the company, the gallery is London’s oldest art dealership. Two artists in particular loom large from the early decades of the company, which was set up to sell and publish prints: James McNeill Whistler and Samuel Palmer.
Ten etchings and four paintings (from £4,000) by Palmer are for sale as part of the anniversary exhibition. The most distinguished of the paintings is Going to Evening Church (£385,000, first picture) and recalls Palmer’s earlier painting Coming from Evening Church, which belongs to the Tate.
A rare pastel drawing (£380,000) by Whistler of a nude model is believed to be a portrait of the actress Ethel Warwick. The subtle touches of pink and light red on the model’s face and orange on her feet give warmth and light to her otherwise spare form.
Other gems to look out for are the only recorded cast of the sculpture Crouching Fawn (£150,000, third picture) by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, conceived in 1913 two years before he died, and an unusual watercolour by Edward Bawden of houses clinging to a hillside in Ironbridge in Shropshire, on sale for £24,000. A painting of Corfu (£145,000) by Edward Lear dated 1855-58 features a string of Albanian mountains he described as “like long ranges of opal, with pearls or cream on their summits”. It is a fine example of work by the man whose prodigious talent as an artist has been largely eclipsed by his fame as a composer of nonsense poems.
The show also features a beautiful example of work by Eric Ravilious – a painting of HMS Actaeon (£130,000, fourth picture) that has never been exhibited before – and a painting by Palmer that hasn’t been seen in public since the 1840s. Beyond saying that it is on a “mythological” theme, the gallery is keeping mum about what exactly this painting depicts and where it is from until the opening night. But for lovers of bucolic English countryside or simply a bit of peace and quiet, this show is a must.