A Regional Artistic Tradition Which Is Very Much Still Alive

A Regional Artistic Tradition Which Is Very Much Still Alive

13/05/2023     General News

East Anglian art has a very long heritage – one which is still evolving to this day, says Marc Knighton.

With its big skies, picturesque countryside and pure light, it is little surprise that East Anglia acts as a magnet for artists – and it has always held that allure.  The result is a rich heritage of East Anglian art, a heritage which is increasingly recognised around the world – and is leading to strong demand for works from our regional artists, both contemporary and long-gone.

East Anglia has produced some fantastic artists across the centuries, and its reputation as a hub for painters in particular has always led to others being attracted to live and work here. 

Our region has produced some of the greatest artists across the years, from the leading lights of the Norwich School such as Crome and Cotman, to turn-of-the-century giants like Constable, Munnings and Seago.

We should be really proud that our region has gained a reputation worldwide for producing top-quality visual art, and this is reflected in the prices being achieved in the auction room, as well as the increasingly wide geographical spread of buyers for such work.

Four times a year, the eyes of the art world (and I do mean world, because online bidding means it’s a truly international audience nowadays) turn on Norfolk, when the most important sale of works of art by East Anglian artists takes place in the county. 

Keys’ East Anglian Art Sales have become the most important auctions of such works, and are acknowledged amongst both collectors and dealers as the main event for sourcing East Anglian art.

Of course, the star names of the past will always be in demand; bidders will always clamour for works by Campbell Mellon, Arnesby-Brown and Eloise Stannard.

What sets East Anglian art apart though is the level of demand at all levels, from the stars, through the Norwich School artists such as Crome and Cotman, to Norwich 20 group members such as Leslie Davenport and Henley Curl.

But perhaps the most striking change in recent years has been the huge increase in interest in more contemporary East Anglian artists.  Works by high profile present-day painters such as Colin Burns, Ian Houston, Jack Cox and Maggie Hambling are among the most sought-after lots in today’s East Anglian Art Sales.

We shouldn’t be surprised at this.  The factors which have always attracted artists to East Anglia – the light, the big skies, the peaceful quality of life conducive to creativity – are all just as relevant as they were back in 1803 when the Norwich Society of Artists was established by John Crome and John Sell Cotman.

Although pictures by the ‘big names’ can sell for thousands and even tens of thousands, there are plenty of contemporary artists whose works can be picked up at more accessible prices, and these may indeed be the classics of the future.

The nice thing about our East Anglian Art Sale is the mixture of people buying.  What you might call serious collectors rub shoulders with private buyers who simply want something to hang on their wall at home.  It is telling that this is our most attended sale during the year, with a higher proportion of buyers in the room (as opposed to bidding online) than for any other sale.

What are they looking for?  What does particularly well?  Obviously the well-known artists will always attract attention, but the subject matter is important in determining demand as well.  If people recognise or can relate to what is in the picture, its value will be higher; for example, paintings of Norwich by Arthur Davies always sell well, as do the Broadland views of Stephen John Batchelder.

It is all too easy to glory in our past; what is especially pleasing is that the tradition of East Anglian Art is still being created today, and our region is still a major powerhouse for British art.

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