By his death in 1969, Sir William Russell Flint was a world famous artist, and originals and reproductions of his work hang in collections and galleries all over the UK and abroad. Known for his remarkable technical watercolour skill, he also painted in oil and tempera and produced fine drawings, etchings and book illustrations. Many will be familiar with the wide variety of his subject matter, which spanned picturesque gypsies and sensuous nudes, to luminous landscapes and seascapes of Scotland, France, Italy and Switzerland. We were delighted to present to market a group of exceedingly fine examples of his work in our December 2020 auction of Scottish Paintings & Sculpture.
Charles Wheeler, President of the Royal Academy at the time of Flint’s retrospective in 1962, described his artistic touch - simultaneously delicate and precise - as a “baffling skill”. This unerring precision was likely learned during the early years of his life, training as an apprentice lithographic draughtsman with Banks & Co. Printers in his home city of Edinburgh.
Flint soon moved to London and, after the interlude of the First World War during which he served as a Lieutenant in the RNVR and later as a captain in the RAF, the artist soon found his career taking off. Very soon, he was able to earn a living solely from his watercolours. His success afforded him the opportunity to frequently travel abroad on painting excursions to Europe. He was fascinated by the distinctive climates, architecture, costumes and customs of foreign countries, and this degree of engagement with his subject can be seen reflected in his romanticised interpretations of local life. The pure escapism of his imagery appealed greatly to his audience of collectors. Idealised female figures on pristine beaches or reclining on elegant furniture seemed to at once embody and amplify all that was joyous of the roaring 1920s, whilst simultaneously harking back to a rose-tinted idyll of a past era.
In 1962, almost at the end of his career, his genius was internationally acclaimed by a solo exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art, of which Flint had been a member since 1933. His widely recognisable work is still sought out and well-collected to this day, and examples can be viewed in major institutions including the British Museum, and the Victoria & Albert Museum.
It is no surprise then, that the works we welcomed onto the market in December 2020, represented the dedicated and passionate collecting of a single private owner who had carefully accrued some of the finest examples to be offered at auction for some time.
Lyon & Turnbull’s Scottish Paintings & Sculpture specialists host two auctions per year from our Scottish auction house based in Edinburgh. Successfully selling around 90% of Scottish Colourist works handled in the last eight years, a record unmatched by our competitors – selling Scottish art in Scotland has always been a Lyon & Turnbull lynchpin. Our specialists are experts not only on the works of Scottish artists, but also on the workings of the art market, and it is this combination that fuels our on-going success in the field.