Unknown Elwell to be auctioned in December


October 24, 2017

Dee Atkinson & Harrison have been favoured with selling many interesting Fred and Mary Dawson Elwell’s over the years; in fact we are the acknowledged auctioneer of choice for the auction or purchase of them. We have recently been instructed by a client to sell three examples of Fred’s work that came up for auction at a regional auctioneer as part of a deceased estate.

The most impressive is an unknown oil on canvas which we believe to be of Mary by Fred. It has taken much research to confirm its provenance and history; when it was collected it came with a copy of the Yorkshire Illustrated, dated January 1953. The magazine containing an article on Elwell and was inscribed “Inside articles about Uncle Fred” and two photographs of Elwell, one inscribed “Uncle Fred Elwell”.

Initially we had to establish the identity of the sitter; by referring to the Wendy Loncaster books on both Fred and Mary Dawson Elwell, we felt the resemblance was very strong and by examination of paintings held by the Beverley Art Gallery even more so. It had also been noted by Herbert Thompson, manager of the gentlemen’s department of Schofield’s beneath her studio in the billiard room of the Holderness Hotel in Beverley, that she wore a grey smock splattered with paint and covered her hair. The billiard room was furnished more like a sitting room than a studio as she wished to be comfortable in her surroundings, but it could have been at Fred’s studio or at Bar House.

We then come to when the painting might have been executed; this was one of the easier tasks as she is not wearing a wedding ring. Born in 1874 she married Alfred Holmes (a successful Hull oil broker) when she was 21 and they moved to Beverley where they came into contact with Fred Elwell. Alfred and Fred became firm friends and following a terminal illness Alfred died on the 5th August 1913; following a respectable period Fred and Mary went to London to marry on the 28th September 1914 in Surrey (Alfred having already given his blessing to the couple). Therefore it would be reasonable to suggest that this was painted in the middle of 1914 and the serene expression on Mary’s face is her thinking of the impending marriage.

The next question is why this was an unknown painting. Fred exhibited it at the Royal Institute of Oil Painters in London at an unknown date according to the label that came with it. Upon marrying they lived at Bar House, Beverley, the address on the label; he became a member of the R.I.O.P. in 1917 of the Royal Society. With the Number 2 on the label this was also presumably his second painting exhibited there and again it would therefore seem plausible that it remained in their home between being painted and exhibited.

We should like to thank Fiona Jenkinson of the Beverley Guildhall for access to the reserve collection.



Also consigned were two unframed oils on board by Fred from their many travels to Europe, one of which, “Zermatt and the Matterhorn” struck a chord with our researcher; he had seen a similar image before. By examining the well-constructed website of the East Riding Museums he found the answer. Here was the image but painted by Mary, dated 1939, from a trip they made that was cut short by the outbreak of World War II; hers is from a view point slightly to the right of Fred’s and more detailed. One can imagine them painting this one afternoon discussing light and colours in peace and harmony before having to rush home. This one is estimated at £1,000/1,500. The third one is similar but entitled “Albi” from a trip to France.

The auction will be held on Friday the 1st December at our salerooms in Exchange Street, Driffield, further details can be obtained from Andrew Spicer, andrews@dahauctions.com.