Bonhams is continuing to place its bets on the work of 20th-century British artist David Jagger, who built a reputation as a portraitist to Britain’s elite. Yet, until recently, his work had been largely overshadowed by that of his sculptor brother Charles.
On November 22, Jagger’s 1923 oil on canvas, The Jade Necklace, a portrait of the artist’s wife Katherine “Kitty” Jagger, goes under the gavel in their London saleroom. Tagged at £70,000 to £90,000 ($92,000 to $130,000), the painting is among a trio of works by the artist offered in a sale of Modern British and Irish Art at Bonhams, which has seen a marked rise in interest in his work since November 2015, when it sold Jagger’s oil on canvas, The Conscientious Objector (1917). That work sailed through its £5,000 to £8,000 ($6,500–$10,500) estimate to achieve £115,000 ($151,159). “Although we did give that work a special push due to the subject matter and the quality,” says Matthew Bradbury, director of modern British and Irish art at Bonhams, “it also had a conservative estimate.”
The following November, Bonhams offered Jagger’s 1939 canvas, The Young Golfer (Portrait of Ms. Joyce Rigby), which depicts a beautiful woman holding a golf club. It too exceeded expectations, selling for £137,000 ($179,608) on an estimate of £20,000 to £30,000 ($26,200 to $39,300). The sale of that work prompted the owner of a stunning 1928 Jagger self-portrait to consign her canvas past June. Estimated at £20,000 to £30,000 ($22,700–$34,000), the self-portrait commanded £221,000 ($289,985), an artist record at auction. “It’s a really unusual, rare, and captivating portrait in which the artist looks directly at the viewer,” Bradbury says of the oil on board, adding that, “I was expecting it to exceed £100,000, but the fact that it was the first David Jagger to sell for more than £200,000 did surprise me.”
In light of recent sales, The Jade Necklace carries a substantially higher estimate. Timothy Dickson, author of the Bonhams lot notes on the work and of a forthcoming catalog raisonné on Jagger, deems the painting “unquestionably, one of the finest examples” of his portraits of his wife.
Interestingly, none of Jagger portraits sold recently depicts a luminary, Bradbury explains, adding that Queen Mary, King George VI, Vivien Leigh, Winston Churchill, and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, all sat for him. “If one of those portraits, particularly the one of Churchill, reaches the market,” he says, things could get even more interesting. “Personally, I think the bar would be set to a new level.”