Rare Camden Town Group painting found in house clearance
Much of Harry Rutherford's work from the period was lost in war bombing
15 May, 2017 — By Dan Carrier
WITH his art studio in Camden Town bombed out during the Second World War, tracking down celebrated artist Harry Rutherford’s surviving early oil paintings can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack for collectors.
So aficionados will know just why one art historian’s “heart skipped a beat” when one turned up hanging in a spare room during a recent house clearance.
The painting of a street in Camden Town dates to 1933 and is part of Mr Rutherford’s work during his time with Walter Sickert, the most famous member of the pre-war Camden Town Group. It is not known whether it has ever been displayed before in public – the current owner’s parents bought the work in the 1970s from a private dealer – and it is now due to be auctioned on June 13.
Chiswick Auction’s art historian Suzanne Zack told the New Journal that when she came across the painting in a house in north London – she declined to say exactly where – she “took one look at it and knew it was special”.
She added: “A client had contacted us and said they were clearing their parents’ home and would I like to see something? I went into a back room which was completely empty – except for this painting on the wall. They said it had been there since the 1970s. My heart skipped a beat. I would very much like to know what street is featured.”
While Mr Rutherford lived until 1985, much of his work from the pre-war period was lost in the Blitz bombings. Sickert had described him as his “intellectual heir and successor”. Ms Zack said: “As a British painter, he is considered to be one of the most important of the period.”
Mr Rutherford was originally from Manchester and a contemporary of LS Lowry, with whom he studied art, before moving south to work with Sickert. On TV, he made quick sketches for the show Cabaret Cartoons in the 1930s, and then later presented the children’s art show Sketchbook, the forerunner to Tony Hart’s popular series, Take Hart.
As well as the mystery over where the painting was before the 1970s, the work has another secret: on its reverse is a half-finished image of a fairground, also by Rutherford, believed to be related to a series he completed in 1932 at Great Yarmouth. Ms Zack added: “Canvases were not cheap and he was obviously making the most of his materials at the time. “The fairground may not be completed – but is still a striking, wonderful piece.”
Art experts believe Harry Rutherford may have painted his famous friend Walter Sickert into the artwork found in a backroom. A man on the right of the painting, looking across a street in Camden Town could be him, they think. Suzanne Zack told the New Journal: “He is wearing the same clothes Sickert was known for, and if you look closely, it looks very much as if it is him.”