Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Searle at Sworders

It's just like England to have a venerable auction house established in 1782 that I never heard of. I turn to Sworders today because they have just sold two drawings by Ronald Searle from the early 1950's. By this time, Searle had changed all the rules for what constituted an acceptable humorous gag, and in the process catapulted to the top of his field.

There will always be those who see girlhood in terms of its innocence and the Christmas tradition in terms of sentiment. Searle will have none of that. I can't even begin to explain what's funny about the first drawing of three St. Trinian's schoolgirls, but something has gone horribly wrong in the upbringing of these children. Searle, a former prisoner-of-war, revels in his depiction of remorseless childhood cruelty, and we, his co-conspirators, go along with it. 

Lot 832 Description:

*Ronald Searle (b.1920) THREE ST. TRINIAN`S SCHOOLGIRLS. Signed l.r. with initials and inscribed l.l. `for Oscar Pollak from the artist Sept 1950`, pen and ink, 11 x 8cm. *Artist`s resale rights may apply to this lot.

Lot 833 Description:

*Ronald Searle (b.1920) CAROL SINGING. Signed and dated 1952 l.r., inscribed verso `design for a Christmas card`, pen and ink and watercolour, 26 x 33cm. Exhibited: Chris Beetles, London, `The Illustrators, The British Art of Illustration 1800-1991`, no. 542. *Artist`s resale rights may apply to this lot.
  • Price Realised: £3,100

The drawing Carol Singing is just wonderful in how it upends our notions of Christmas revelry. Three children and a dog regale an elderly, deaf woman with Christmas carols, and there's not a smile in the bunch. Even the dog is unhappy.

As the lot description notes, these unhappy carolers appeared in Chris Beetles's 1991 sale catalogue as no. 542. 'Tis the season to note that the next item in that catalogue, no. 543, turns the tables on Santa:
Ronald Searle,  One for You, One for Me

Sale Date

  • 28 Nov 2011 1pm
  • 29 Nov 2011 10am

Venue Address

  • Stansted Mountfitchet Salerooms
  • Cambridge Road
  • Stansted Mountfitchet
  • Essex
  • CM24 8GE
  • United Kingdom

May 12, 2012 Update:  Both drawings from this auction are currently offered for sale by London art dealer Chris Beetles in his exhibition Ronald Searle Remembered, May 22 - June 9, 2012. The drawing of the three St. Trinian's Schoolgirls is available at 4,500 GBP. Sworders lots carry a 20% buyer's premium, so the dealer markup is 127% above cost.  

Carol Singing sold at auction at Sworders for  3,100 GBP, or 3,720 GBP with the buyer's premium. The current selling price of 7,500 GBP therefore represents a markup of 102%.

Item 47, Ronald Searle Remembered exhibition sale price, Chris Beetles Gallery, May 22 - June 9, 2012

Item 153, Ronald Searle Remembered catalogue, Chris Beetles Gallery, May 22 - June 9, 2012

Item 153, Ronald Searle Remembered exhibition sale price, Chris Beetles Gallery, May 11 - June 9, 2012
Ronald Searle, Three St. Trinian's Schoolgirls, Chris Beetles Gallery

Ronald Searle, Carol Singing, Chris Beetles Gallery

May 28, 2012 Update:  The original drawing entitled St. Trinian's Schoolgirls which was offered for sale by Chris Beetles at 4,500 GBP is now listed by the gallery as sold. In addition, the drawing Carol Singing which was offered for sale by the gallery at 7,500 GBP is now listed as sold.

Note:  It seems I'm adding posts about Ronald Searle all the time, and you can see my most recent one here with a cat drawing never before seen in cyberspace.

Of course, there's no reason for me to write about Searle at all! Matt Jones has already done all the legwork. Check this out for a treasure trove of Searle Christmas cards, including the one made from Carol Singing, above!



  1. The St. Trinian's sketch is tiny, not even post card size. I love the one of the kids singing Christmas carols and actually bid on it. But unfortunately didn't win. Bummer!

  2. I'm sorry you didn't get it, Uli. The competition for these gems is fierce!

  3. I love the Carolers. The hat on the old girl is fantastic.


  4. The old dear and the carol singers takes the biscuit. I wonder if these are back in the Beetles gallery?

  5. Replies
    1. ...But it seems I am woefully incorrect. Both drawings were purchased by the Chris Beetles Gallery and are currently for sale there. This marks the second time Carol Singers has been offered for sale by the gallery, which I believe is fairly unusual. Also, I suppose back in January I didn't think Chris Beetles would be disciplined enough to hold on to such expensive artwork for six months before trying to turn a profit. His usual practice, when he is not preparing for a large retrospective exhibit, would be to offer the artwork for sale almost immediately.