Personal Portraits from the “Painter Laureate”

6th December 2019

Important paintings from the personal collection of the first artist to paint the Queen are being offered at auction for the first time.

Francis Owen Salisbury (known as Frank O. Salisbury) has been described as “Britain’s Painter Laureate”, such was his fame for his portraits of members of society. No fewer than 25 members of the British Royal family sat for him, as well as six American presidents. His prolific output was honed by his habit of every morning spending an hour painting his young twin daughters, and it is some of these works that are now coming onto the market at Woolley and Wallis salerooms in Salisbury.

By 1932, Salisbury’s success was such that he was able to build a new house in Hampstead, which he called Sarum Chase (a pun on the Roman name of his namesake city). Here he housed those paintings which were too precious to sell, and which held deep significance for him. A photograph of him, taken in the 1940s, shows him seated in the gallery at Sarum Chase beneath three paintings, one of which is a portrait of his daughter, Monica, on her wedding day; a painting that features in the sale on 11th December.

Several of the works depict family members – daughter Monica appears in another portrait dated 1930, and with her sister, Sylvia, together on their 21st birthday. A now famous painting of the twins as children, titled Field Mice, is the original version of a 1910 painting that sold at Christie’s in 1987, while another work of the two girls was painted for the golfer, Samuel Ryder, after whom the biennial tournament was named. The painting was acquired by Salisbury’s family after Ryder’s death in 1933 and has not been back on the market since.

“Very few artists painted as many of the great and the good in the Western world and his official portraits are a remarkable historical record of the period,” said Paintings specialist at Woolley and Wallis, Victor Fauvelle. “But what is especially wonderful about these works is that they were so emotionally important to him. They were painted for love rather than money, and that his daughters were such willing models for him is a tribute to his skill and patience.”

The eight paintings feature as part of the Modern British and 20th Century Art sale on 11th December, where they carry estimates between £1,500 and £8,000. The collection is expected to total around £32,000. Woolley and Wallis have previously sold works from the same collection, including a portrait of the artist’s daughter, Sylvia, which sold for a hammer price of £12,000 in 2014.

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