Six Rare Ethel Spowers Prints Head to Auction in London

Six Rare Ethel Spowers Prints Head to Auction in London
"The Giant Stride" by Ethel Spowers (detail)
(Courtesy Bonhams)

Bonhams are set to offer six rare and highly desirable Grosvenor school prints by renowned Australian printmaker Ethel Spowers (1890-1947) during their 16 April Grosvernor School and Avant-Garde British Printmaking sale in London. It is rare for one Spowers print to appear at auction let alone six in the one sale.

Spowers is of the most sought after Grosvenor School printmakers and holds the record for the most expensive Grosvenor School print sold at auction, a rarely seen impression of the artist’s “The Gust of Wind” which was sold by Bonhams in April 2012 for £114,050 against an estimate of £15,000 –20,000. Prints by Spowers and other Grosvernor School artists have risen dramatically over the last few years resulting in a number of new auction records.

The most expensive of the six Spowers prints being sold by Bonhams on 16 April is a good impression of the wonderful “Wet Afernoon,” a copy of which was sold by Christie’s to an American collector in May 2011 for £51,650 against an estimate of £3,000 – £5,000. Bonhams will offer their impression with an estimate of £30,000 – 50,000.

Even though it is being sold with an estimate of £10,000 – 15,000, Spowers’ “The Island of the Dead” has the potential to break the previous Grosvenor School auction record as this is the first time an impression of this print has come to the market, Bonhams claims. A haunting depiction of the cemetery of the notorious penal colony of Port Arthur in Tasmania, “The Island of the Dead” will be especially attractive to Australian collectors.

“The Giant Stride” is one of Spowers’ most admired and popular images. The brilliantly dynamic image depicts a group of children playing on a piece of rather dangerous early 20th century play equipment that involved children swinging on chains around a central pole. Bonhams will offer a good impression of “The Giant Stride” with an estimate of £30,000 – 50,000, the second most expensive of the six Spowers prints.

Also included in the sale is number 20/30 of Spowers’ “The Rain Cloud,” estimated to fetch £8,000 - 12,000; number 23/50 of “Swings,” estimated to fetch £10,000 – 15,000; a watercolour and pencil on paper titled “Parade,” estimated to fetch £6,000 – 8,000; and an offset lithograph of the print “The Junior Red Cross Works in Every Land,” estimated to fetch £1,000 – 1,500.