After Working All His Life

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WORKS by Manchester's forgotten Impressionist painter will be among the rare attractions at Tatton Park Antiques & Fine Fair, Knutsford, Cheshire, which runs from January 7-9, offering collectors a post-Christmas opportunity to leave the telly and turkey behind and spend money with 50 art and antiques specialist dealers.

Alfred Ackrill (1907-1988) was not discovered until after his death when Manchester Art Gallery mounted an exhibition of his work in 2003. Ackrill's widow took his paintings to the curator for evaluation and almost overnight his talent was recognised. Ackrill was proclaimed a lost master.

Ackrill's story is fascinating, if not a little sad. He was born in Sheffield and showed an early talent for art but was unable to take up a scholarship at Oldham College of art because his family was too poor to support him. Instead, he produced thousands of pictures in his spare time, often painting over completed works because he could not afford new canvasses.

After working all his life as a builder's labourer, at the age of 78 he was persuaded to enter a competition to paint a scene depicting Manchester life. He won first prize - a trip to Paris - and he and his wife, Florence, more used to spending holidays in North Wales, looked forward with excitement to their first trip abroad.

However, as they were filling in the application forms for their passports, they received a telephone call from the competition organiser. The runner-up had complained that Ackrill''s winning picture was of Chester, not Manchester, and the contest was declared null and void.

Ackrill had learned to love the work of the Impressionists from seeing illustrations in books, but he never got to see the pictures themselves in the great galleries of Paris. Undaunted, he continued to paint and was still sketching two days before he died aged 81.

Now Lancashire art dealer Steve Marsling has acquired a group of Ackrill's paintings, among which, appropriately, is an oil on canvas titled Steam Fair, Tatton Park, which will be on sale for pounds 2,200. Painted in about 1955, the atmospheric painting in the Impressionist style vividly captures the fair with its trucks, cars, marquees and people on a blustery day.

Steve Marsling said: "It is rare for Ackrill's works to come on to the open market and I am privileged to offer this unique work by a forgotten Manchester artist who is clearly one of Britain's most accomplished painters of the 20th century."

This first, prestige fair of the New Year will offer a wide range of antiques and fine art with prices from less than pounds 25 to more than pounds 25,000, all of which are vetted for quality and authenticity. The event is the fourth to be organised by Cooper Fairs since its re-launch in March 2010 and draws collectors and connoisseurs from across the region, the Midlands and beyond.

Since Cooper Fairs acquired the fair last year, it has undergone a transformation as organiser Sue Ede continues to expand and update its appeal. She said: "People are returning to discover the fair is back to full strength with 50 exhibitors and a very broad range of exhibits, from traditional antiques to the finest contemporary art and sculpture."

There is something for all taste, from the fine Georgian and Victorian furniture on the stands of Bryan Chew, Dorset; Mark Buckley, West Yorkshire; and Church Street Antiques, Altrincham; to contemporary works from newcomer the London dealers, Park Walk Gallery, and Books Illustrated, Salisbury; 18th, 19th and 20th century watercolours from Phoenix Fine Art, Cheshire; and Baron Fine Art, Chester; and fine Persian carpets from M. …