Brush with Genius; Sally Hoban Looks at the Work of One of Birmingham's Finest Painters
Byline: Sally Hoban
Successful collectors and antique dealers share the ability to be able to predict which antiques to invest in that will go up in value in the future. The same is true for the art market.
Canny collectors buying the work of an exceptional artist early in their career, or before prices for their works start to rise, will very often reap the rewards of their investment in the future. The secret is to look for quality and originality.
Collectors in the 50s, 60s and 70s buying the work of late 19th and early 20th century artists from Birmingham were doing precisely this. Over the past few years, despite the uncertain economic climate, the work of Victorian and Edwardian painters from Birmingham has continued to rise in popularity in the collectors' market.
In 2006 for example, a private collection of the work of the Birmingham artist Joseph Southall (1861-1944) which was amassed over many years by an eccentric and reclusive Halesowen pensioner came under the hammer at Christie's auctioneers and sold for more than double their estimates, with several selling for in excess of pounds 10,000.
This sale was an early indicator of the growing popularity of Birmingham artists and set a precedent for the prices for Southall's work, so if you have a painting or drawing by him hiding in your attic you could be sitting on a valuable treasure.
If you'd like to invest in an example of his work, the Fine Art Society in London has a couple of Southall works for sale - with the price for each on application.
Southall is perhaps the best known artist from the Birmingham Group of painters. The jewel-like, enamel qualities of his frescoes and paintings are instantly recognisable. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has an outstanding collection of his work on permanent show, with one of his best works situated at the top of the entrance stairs to the main art gallery.
Simply titled Corporation Street, Birmingham, in March 1914, this supreme example of fresco painting gives us an outstanding snapshot of life in the city before the First World War.
Southall worked on this commission during the winter of 1915-16, actively supported by Sir Whitworth Wallace, who was the first keeper of the Art Gallery.
It is a wonderful example of Southall's mastery of form. It is also a great record of the fashions of the time (Southall was a great lover of painting hats and the hats in this painting are by no means the most spectacular that he painted).
Southall was born in Nottingham to a Quaker family but, in 1862, after the death of his father, he went with his mother to live with his grandmother in Edgbaston. He was educated in York where he was taught drawing by Edwin Moore, who was a brother of the artist Albert Moore.
In September 1878, he was articled to Birmingham architects Martin and Chamberlain and in 1879 attended the Birmingham Municipal School of Art's Branch School in Osler Street in the evenings. …