Highlights: The William Hardie Collection

On Saturday 28th August, The Great Western Auctions Ltd had the honour of bringing the collection of the late William Hardie to auction. A well-known erudite figure in the Scottish and international art scene, William Hardie’s art collection truly reflected the man he was. From fine arts and crafts furniture, paintings by some of Scotland’s premier artists such as John Byrne, Donald Bain, Glasgow Boys (both new and old), to art world favourites like David Hockney, The William Hardie Collection attracted a huge international response from dealers and collectors alike.

The historic sale, conducted by Paul Howard & David Convery, was memorable not only for the quality of works on offer, but for the intense competition for the majority of lots. With a plethora of phone bidders and eager attendees in the saleroom, a rare white glove sale was achieved, the 295-lot collection realising a 100% sell rate and a total price in excess of £200,000. Senior auctioneer Paul Howard, close friend and co-worker of Hardie, described this special auction as a “truly spectacular event.”

Two works from the oeuvre of Yorkshire-born artist George Dutch Davidson (1897-1901) performed extremely well. The influence of the Scottish Celtic Revival within Davidson’s works is immediately noticeable; in his formative years the artist shared a studio with John Duncan, one the preeminent figures of the movement. Duncan’s colour-rich, mosaic-like works of Celtic Saints interlaced with myriad symbols were absorbed by Davidson to form a truly original style that seems impossible to categorise within the history of art. In Boats on a River, Davidson renders a typical landscape scene in a conglomeration of patterns – reeds become slivers of blue while levels of water are clearly delineated by wisps of white line – the effect resembling a page from an illuminated manuscript. In Female Head Design, Davidson fuses aspects of Art Nouveau with strands of Celtic knotwork and esoteric symbols to create a harmonious, detail-rich work that epitomises his articulate visual language. With only a handful of active years before his untimely death, works of Davidson’s scarcely come to market: top quality examples are even rarer. The prices certainly reflected this – Boats on a River achieved £10,304*, while Female Head Design realised £9,660*.


George Dutch Davidson (1897-1901), Female Head Design: Sold £9,660*


The Hardie collection included a comprehensive collection of over forty works by Donald Bain. Born at the beginning of the 20th century, Bain’s formative years were spent under the tutelage of Glasgow Boy William McGregor, who introduced him to the world of the Scottish colourists. Bain gravitated to the work of J.D Fergusson, and the two became close friends (evident in Lot 54, Fergusson’s book Modern Scottish Painting, inscribed to Bain). Both artists had strong ties to France and French painting, which a profound effect on Bain’s work, particularly in the period of 1940-46. Important works from this period, Place Dauphine Paris (sold £3,600*) and Place de la Concord (sold £2,450*) illustrate Bain’s visceral painterly response to the alluring atmosphere of France. Bain’s widely varying style was well represented in the sale. Relatively unknown until the last few decades of the 20th century, William Hardie’s discerning eye and in-depth knowledge of Bain’s oeuvre led to several seminal exhibitions in 1972 and 2000 which shone a much-needed light on the artist’s innate, intelligent use of colour harmonies and distinct brushwork, repositioning his work as on par with the lauded Scottish Colourists.  Examples of paintings from Bain’s return to Scotland that display his assimilation of French style encapsulated by his rich chromatic palette such as Dunollie & The Loch Road raced past their estimates, achieving £3,350* and £1,800* respectively.


Donald Bain (1904-1979), Place De La Concord: Sold £2,45o*


Donald Bain (1904-1979), Dunollie: Sold £3,350*


The work of celebrated artist-playwright John Byrne (b. 1940) achieved top market prices. Byrne’s famously whimsical, figural and often autobiographical oeuvre was well represented – Self Portrait with Cat, which depicts the cartoonish artist lounging on a stony beach accompanied by a leaping feline companion sold for £5,800*. Self Portrait with Bird, a phantasmagorical display of flurried stipples and marks, whose lilac outlined forms begin to suggest the presence humanoid and animalistic figures, realised £4,500*. The Pink Boot claimed the top price for a Byrne work in the sale, with various bidders vying for a superb piece of one of Scotland’s most adored artists, finally achieving £14,160*. A further highlight came from Byrne’s poignant portrait of Mr Hardie. While retaining a classic Byrne ebullience in the caricature of himself held by Hardie, the artist succeeded in capturing not just a distinct likeness, but also a palpable sense of the sitters introspective and graceful manner. The portrait rightfully exceeded its high estimate, selling at £10,300*.


John Byrne RSA (b. 1940), The Pink Boot: Sold £14,160*


The most anticipated work – and the final lot – in the already successful sale, the portrait of William Hardie by David Hockney (b. 1937), considered by many to be one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century, had a special significance. Hardie first met Hockney at his Malibu studio, with successive visits cementing a mutual respect and solid friendship. In fact, it was Hardie who brought Scotland its first Hockney exhibition in 1993. The show (which attracted over 10,000 visitors) was a testament to Hardie’s dedication to Scotland, as rather than the National Gallery of Art or the Scottish Arts Council, it was one man who enriched and enlivened the Scottish arts scene with an international name such as Hockney. The work, completed in 1994, is typical of Hockney portraits. Comprised of delicate strands of line that makeup the body of the sitter, these are juxtaposed with darker, detailed strokes which concentrate on his clasped hands and most importantly, the expression. The air of silence (which Hockney demanded of his sitters during drawing sessions) is immediately evoked by the largely restrained mark making, while the depth of line used by the artist to capture the sitter’s facial features alludes to a deep connection between the two men. Hockney encapsulates William Hardie both in body and mind – the portrait exemplifies the cool, erudite air possessed by the sitter.

With nearly three hours spent on the rostrum, Paul Howard orchestrated a keenly contested battle for this sublime portrait, which chimed in at £42,500*, over ten times its low estimate: both a fitting conclusion to the collection and celebration of one of Scotland’s most respected cultural figures, William Hardie.


David Hockney OM CH RA (b. 1937), William Hardie March 11 1994: Sold £42,500*

*All prices include buyer’s premium.